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Measures need to be taken to protect vines from climate

Hanbidge on Horticulture: Growing Grapes Part II
growing wine grapes (Large)
Grapes are a fast-growing vine that needs to be pruned annually.

This article is more about growing grapes. Last week we focused on growing grapes for ornamental purposes and some backyard grape growing for preserves. This week. it is all about growing grapes for wine.

Grapes are a fast-growing vine that needs to be pruned annually, especially if you are growing the vines for production. The flower buds develop in the fall so are susceptible to harsh winters and late spring frosts. They need to be planted in full sun and in colder climates are often planted at a 45-degree angle to facilitate the necessary winter protection. A trellis should be put in place at planting time as their rapid growth ensures they need a support system early in the season. Each fall, the vines are pruned back to eight buds, removed from their trellis and allowed to lay on the ground. The snow cover helps to protect the vines from winter damage.

The University of Minnesota is recognized as one of the top wine grape research programs and today has more than 12,000 cultivated experimental vines with a diverse genetic base. Their work has produced the following selections that are worthy of growing here.

· Frontenac withstands -38 C, without serious injury and ripens mid-season. It makes an excellent white wine with fruity flavour.

· Marquette withstands -35 C, and ripens a bit earlier than Frontenac. It has good resistance to powdery and downy mildew and makes an excellent red wine.

· Frontenac Gris withstands -38 C, ripens about the same time as Frontenac and makes an excellent white wine.

· La Crescent withstands -35 C and ripens late season so still a work in progress. It makes a dessert wine similar to a Riesling.

· St. Croix is the main red wine variety in Quebec (-29 C) so it needs snow cover to overwinter here.

· Sabrevois is comparable to St. Croix but hardier to -35 C. It makes a very dark wine that is often better as a blended wine.

It is exciting to have so many new types of grapes to grow and I am thankful for the breeding program in Minnesota. They evaluate cold hardiness, disease resistance, viticultural traits such as productivity, cluster size, growth habit, bud break and ripening times. Once a new grape is released, nurseries get a well-tested selection that has already been evaluated for 15 years or more. For example, Marquette was first made in 1989 and was not introduced as a new variety until 2006.

For fun, this year I planted a couple of Marechal Foch vines this year. This grape is one of the hardiest French hybrid grapes that was developed in France during the latter part of the twentieth century. Although I would never grow this grape commercially in this cold climate, we as gardeners can push the limits with our microclimates. It will be both interesting and fun to see how it does. This year it provided a pretty good harvest so with some winter cover, next year should be even better.

Hanbidge is the Lead Horticulturist with Orchid Horticulture. Find us at; by email at; on facebook @orchidhort and on instagram at #orchidhort.

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