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Wine grapes for the North

Posted by Todd Parlo 
Wine grapes for the North
January 16, 2023 05:04PM
Since we have had inquiries into the grape cold hardiness realm, I thought we might dig into the successes and failures we growers are having with wine grapes in our cooler climes. We are about 40 minutes shy of the Canadian border in US zone 3. Although dessert grapes allow us a decent cultivar selection, wine grapes are less cooperative. However, a handful have done reasonably well. Those that have survived our climate are La Crescent, Frontenac, Kay Gray, Prairie Star, Marquette, St. Croix, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Sabrevois. There are other candidates for wine that fit firmly in the dessert fruit category (dual purpose) but we will leave those out for now. Note some in this list like Kay are indeed an eating grape as well. This all said, some have fared better than others including some mortality or winter damage. The uncontested winners in our experience have been Frontenac and Sabrevois. These two have shown little insult from our cold winters. And although it is a discussion for another thread, these have also shown little fussiness regarding foliar disease. What I should add is that our region tends to have reliable snow cover (let's leave out the abominable 2022/23 winter for the moment). Unlike vinifera grapes which are typically grafted, labrusca or other American natives are going to be on their own roots. This means that the cold hardiness of each grape is assessed on the hardiness of both aerial and root portions, each variety in turn. Alternatively, a grafter may simply choose the hardy rootstock of choice and work those selected cultivars upon it. Own root material does offer some degree of insulation (resprout after severe cold damage may be more likely or pronounced), particularly in contrast to a high grafted specimen. All the above listed varieties have been grown here on their own roots. We have several commercial vineyards in shouting distance of our farm in northern Vermont. For those in the group considering such a venture there is promise in growing wine grapes, and/or including them in your hard cider venture. It would prove helpful if others in our group could add their thoughts to this discussion including varieties they are growing or other experiences.
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