April 6, 2016 – Wine grape development isn’t what springs to mind when you think about the University of Minnesota, but their horticultural science department has just released the fifth in series of grapes designed to withstand Zone 4 sub zero temperatures, diseases prevalent in grape vines, and short seasons for ripening. Zone 4 stretches across the mid-west where temperatures can drop to -20 F.
The latest is “Itasca” which produces dry white wine described as light yellow to straw color with aromas of pear, quince, violet, melon, minerals, and subtle honey notes. It slightly resembles a warm climate Sauvignon Blanc because of lower acidity and higher sugar, but as Matt Clark the University of Minnesota grape breeder explained, Itasca has its own flavor profile and it is not their goal to try to reproduce other vitas vinifera flavor characteristics. It does, however, resist downy and powdery mildew and the root louse phylloxera, all common problems in vineyards.
We asked Matt Clark about the genetic base of this vitus riparia grape. He told us its mother was Frontenac Gris and its father MN1234 (it has yet to be named) but its ancestors include French hybrids such as Seyval Blanc and Landal. Frontenac Gris is another grape developed at the U of M along with Frontenac, La Crescent and Marquette.
In 1996, the University of Minnesota released Frontenac, and now their cold-hardy varietals dominate the acreage in cold climates with 3,260 acres out of approximately 5,400 acres planted in 12 states. The cold-climate grape growing and winery industry program has an estimated $401 million economic impact nationwide according to a 2014 U of M study.
Itasca will be available to growers in 2017 and it will be another five years before the first vintage is produced.