Cold Climate Wines
In the mid-1980s, the University of Minnesota initiated a breeding program for wine grapes, and today is recognized as one of the top wine grape programs in the United States.
The goal of the University of Minnesota grape breeding program is to develop high-quality, cold-hardy and disease-resistant grape cultivars. Through this program, the University of Minnesota has released four outstanding grape varieties: Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent and Marquette.
Years before the University of Minnesota’s official program, a Wisconsin farmer tried his hand at grape breeding. Elmer Swenson, working on a plot of 120 acres near Osceola, Wisconsin, began breeding grapes in 1943, by intercrossing French hybrid grapes with those grown natively. Swenson’s hope was to develop high-quality grape varieties that could also withstand cold northern winters.
In 1969, Swenson joined forces with the University of Minnesota, where he began working on various fruit crops while continuing his grape breeding research. The University of Minnesota and Elmer Swenson jointly released two cold-hardy grape varieties still grown today: Edelweiss and Swenson Red. Swenson later released additional varieties on his own, including the popular St. Pepin, La Crosse, Brianna, Sabrevois and Prairie Star.
You can find many of these varieties at wineries throughout Minnesota.