Minnesota wine lovers, raise your glasses! This season, wines made from the University of Minnesota’s (UMN) newest cold-hardy wine grape, ‘Itasca,’ are available for the first time for consumers, with more options coming next year.
This means autumn opportunities to savor white Itasca wines, which are medium-bodied with a beautiful golden hue and expected aromas and flavors including apple, quince, melon, citrus, pear, gooseberry, starfruit, honey and mineral.
Itasca wines are made from UMN’s Itasca grape variety, first identified as an elite seedling in 2009 and released for licensed nurseries to sell in 2017. Itasca grapes are the latest in a series of cold-hardy varieties developed by UMN that led to the budding wine industry in Minnesota and other northern climates.
The University is committed to creating demand for delicious, distinctive Minnesota wines, said Matt Clark, assistant professor of grape breeding and enology in the department of horticultural science at UMN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), and UMN Extension horticulture specialist.
“With its low acidity and high sugar levels — coupled with its high resistance to common grape pests such as downy and powdery mildew and the insect phylloxera — Itasca is well-positioned to create a robust market for grape growers and help winemakers succeed,” Clark said.
Itasca has shown cold hardiness as far north as USDA’s Zone 4, and currently more than 100,000 Itasca grape vines have been sold to Minnesota and other Northern vineyards across the United States. It joins other cold-hardy grapes known as Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent and Marquette, all developed by UMN.
Steve Smith, owner of Brickhaven Vineyards and Winery in Prior Lake, Minn., is one of the largest growers of Itasca grapes. “There’s no reason why Minnesota can’t be a premier producer of high quality wines, especially with the dedication and research we have in our backyard with the University of Minnesota. They’re providing the products for us to really engage that industry,” he said.
UMN has put years of innovation, science and research into grape breeding, enology and wine evaluation with the goal of creating superior Minnesota wines. It is recognized as one of the top wine grape research programs in the country, dedicated to developing high quality, cold-hardy and disease resistant wine grape varieties.
The UMN wine grape breeding program began in the mid 1970s. In 2000, an enology lab and research winery opened at UMN’s Horticultural Research Center in Chaska, Minn. Today, more than 12,000 experimental vines are cultivated on 12 acres, and thousands of seedlings are produced each year using a diverse genetic base.
“Breeding a new grape like Itasca can take 10 to 15 years of painstaking work, including cross-pollinating plants by hand and cloning new seedlings from cuttings,” Clark said. “Our team uses high-tech research techniques, like DNA sequencing and mass spectrometry, to understand seedlings’ genetic makeup and fruit quality.”
UMN’s expertise in the latest advances in genetics, propagation, hybridization, cultivation and winemaking ensures the introduction of vines with superior performance in both the vineyard and the winery.
A winning wine industry
Working hand-in-hand with UMN grape breeding is the enology team, led by enology specialist Drew Horton, who conducts micro-scale wine-making and research wine-making trials and experiments with the cold-hardy grapes, producing numerous experimental wines from test cultivars each year.
“We’re focused on helping wineries by determining optimum processing methods for cultivars like Itasca, and we aim to benefit the Minnesota wine industry by providing local support for winemakers’ analytical, technical and educational needs,” Horton said.
UMN research and the development of cold-hardy grapes has played an instrumental role in building a strong Minnesota wine industry. The state is home to about 80 wineries, more than 60 of which currently produce wine. A UMN Extension report shows that Minnesota’s cold-hardy vineyards and wineries pumped more than $80.3 million into the state’s economy and supported more than 10,500 jobs in 2016.
“I feel that the University and the industry are one,” said Matt Scott, general manager of winemaking and viticulture at 7 Vines Vineyard and Winery in Dellwood, Minn. “Without the U of M’s grape production program and education system, we can’t move forward,” he said, noting that Itasca is “probably going to produce some of the highest quality white wines...coming out of the region in the next decade.”
Ask for Itasca
Wine enthusiasts can check out a list of wineries that have released (or will soon release) an Itasca wine and nurseries/vineyards selling Itasca vines and grapes. It is recommended that people check the establishments’ websites or contact the vineyard/winery/nursery directly to check on hours, availability and any COVID-19 restrictions.
More information about Itasca and other cold-hardy grape varieties can be found at UMN’s Minnesota Hardy website.
University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
The University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) brings science-driven innovators together to discover hands-on solutions to global challenges. With 10 research and outreach centers across Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and the Bell Museum of Natural History, CFANS offers unparalleled experiential learning opportunities for students and the community.
Lori Fligge, CFANS
Due to COVID-19, the annual Fall Field Day has been cancelled. This event has been hosted for decades at the Horticultural Research Center. We hope that we can continue to offer this event again in September 2021.
If you are interested signing-up for UMN Grape Grower emails, follow this link.
The extension team has developed some easy to understand guidance to assit growers and pickers in what grapes to retain for wine making.
The first two of 4 blog posts about vineyard cover crops can be found at
Prior to the beginning of the grape harvest season, it is necessary to clean and sanitize the winery cellar to maintain wine quality, production consistency, and the long-term winery reputation. Cory Marx (UC Davis) and Luke Holcombe (Scott Laboratories) will present this topic during the first 1-hour webinar on August 4, 2020 at 3PM Central
- August 4th 2020: Winery Cleaning and Sanitizing
- 20-minute presentation of the practical aspects of cleaning and sanitizing in a winery by Luke Holcombe from Scott laboratories.
- 20-minute presentation of a recent work carried out at UC Davis by Cory Marx under the supervision of Dr. Anita Oberholster. This presentation will focus on a method for optimizing the use of chemical agents for cleaning and sanitation.
- 15-minute Questions and Answers moderated by Dr. Aude Watrelot and Drew Horton.
Proper & Practical Use of SO2
In the second 1-hour webinar the importance of sulfur dioxide, and good SO2 management in the winery, will be presented and discussed by Dr. Gavin Sacks (Cornell University) and Katie Cook (Scott Laboratories) on August 18, 2020 at 3PM Central
- August 18th 2020: Practical Management of Sulfur Dioxide
- 20-minute presentation on the definition of sulfur dioxide, the forms of sulfites, differences between free, bound and total SO2, the importance of SO2 in winemaking and a new method to measure SO2 by Dr. Gavin Sacks from Cornell university.
- 20-min presentation on the practical aspects of the management of sulfur dioxide in a winery by Katie Cook from Scott laboratories.
- 15-minute Questions and Answers moderated by Dr. Aude Watrelot and Drew Horton.
For further details or any questions, check out the Wine Industry Events in Dr. Watrelot’s website https://faculty.sites.iastate.edu/watrelot/ or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Vintage 2019 MN grape wine filtering issue - UMN Grape Breeding & Enology Project
by Drew Horton, Enology Specialist
The University of Minnesota Grape Breeding & Enology Project has recently received anecdotal reports about difficulty in filtering vintage 2019 wines made from the Frontenac “family” of grapes: Frontenac, Frontenac gris and Frontenac blanc, and possibly some other grape varieties as well. Some winemakers have reported increased problems with filter and membrane clogging, especially with cross-flow type filters.
Although samples of difficult-to-filter wine have not yet been analyzed or measured, discussion with filtration expert Maria Peterson at Scott Labs reveal that this difficulty may be due to increased levels of beta-glucans, a large-molecule polysaccharide. Increased amounts of beta-glucans in juice and wine can be the result of vintage weather conditions that impact bacteria. In Minnesota, 2019 was remarkable for many rain events and high humidity levels, these conditions can lead to the growth of Botrytis and increased incidence of rogue bacteria like Pediococcus. The appearance and growth of these organisms can lead to increased amounts of beta-glucans and can occur during fermentation. This is not a factor just for hybrids, vinifera grapes can have the same issues for the same reasons.
Increased beta-glucans from Botrytis or Pediococcus can quickly plug filters or even the membrane media of a cross-flow. One might also see that tighter-grade sheets and lenticular-cartridges struggle to efficiently pass the wine. Careful monitoring is important since a pressure build-up could blow a hole in the membrane creating downstream problems such as bottling line membranes clogging too quickly.
The addition of enzymes that break down beta-glucans before aging, storage, and bottling can prevent future filtration problems. According to Maria Peterson, “I like adding a beta-glucanase like the Lallzyme MMX as par for the course on difficult batches.” The contact time to break up beta-glucans is at least 6 weeks, so an enzyme addition prior to maturation or bulk storage is advised. An additional benefit of an enzyme like MMX is that it also accelerates autolysis of yeast cells which can improve mouthfeel in the wine. Peterson cautions, “Waiting until bottling day to test for glucan content may be too late, especially in years with favorable conditions for glucan formation.” Professional laboratories can test for Botrytis and glucan content of juice and wine.
ETS Labs in California can test juice and wine for Botrytis and glucan content: https://www.etslabs.com/analyses/%23JBOTPAN
Enartis by Vinquiry Labs in California can also test juice and wine for Botrytis and glucan content:https://shop-usa.enartis.com/wine
Here is a link to the Lallzyme MMX enzyme product from Scott Labs’ website: https://scottlab.com/fermentation-cellar/enzymes/lallzyme-mmx-100g-01620...
Enartis by Vinquiry in California has a comparable product:
Spotlight on Matt Clark featured new developments in growing cold-hardy table grapes
Our most recent CFANS Spotlight with Matt Clark, assistant professor of grape breeding and enology in the Department of Horticultural Science, provided a fascinating look into his approaches to developing new varieties of seedless, cold-hardy table grapes that reintroduce flavor and aroma to the supermarket staple. Follow this link to youtube!
Registration is now open for the 9th Annual International Cold Climate Wine competition. Click on the logo to learn more.
Winter is Minnesota can be one of the most challenging times for the grape plants. It's the main reason V. vinifera varieties aren't grown here. Learn a little bit about whats going on in the vineyard in winter.
Wine making is a rewarding career, but is not free from headaches. A wine maker's nightmare is the re-fermentation of sweet wines and the instability of some wines. This blog entry addresses the topic and offers some strategies to avoid and mitigate a potential devastating re-ferment.
Are you curious if your wine is finished with malolactic fermenation? Here is a quick reminder on how to test with paper chromatography.
ALERT: September 27, 2016. Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) in Grapes: A short memorandom on SWD in Minnesota and associated volatile acidity. Read more here.
Fall vineyard managment should focus on managing insects, vertebrate pests, rots, and diseases that will impact the vines in the next growing season. Making quality wines requires disease intervention and sorting, as infected fruit will impact wine quality. Read more here.
“From Vine to Glass: Understanding the Flavors and Aromas of Cold-Hardy Grapes and Wine”
Tuesday, May 17th*, 2016
12:00 Noon Eastern (11:00 am Central)
7:00 pm Eastern (6:00 pm Central)
*Please note this is a date change from the original date of May 10th.
Join Anne Fennell of South Dakota State University, Adrian Hegeman of the University of Minnesota and Somchai Rice of Iowa State University as they discuss their research conducted on Marquette and Frontenac as part of the Northern Grapes Project.
Friday April 29, 2016
This Saturday April 16, 2016
The University of Minnesota releases its news wine varieity 'Itasca' on April 4, 2016
Experimenting with different grafting techniques including grafting Ampelopsis with a hybrid rootstock.
Early bud chop counts on cold-hardy cultivars at the HRC