Frontenac Gris: a cold-climate grape that makes a white wine with a light, tropical flavor and hints of green apple

By Neil Bahr
Frontenac Gris

Photo credit: University of Minnesota, David L. Hansen

Frontenac Gris, one of the five varieties of cold climate grapes developed by the University of Minnesota, makes a nice white wine and is used by wineries across the state and region.

At Vinmark Estates, we grow two cold climate grape cultivars, Frontenac Gris (white) and Marquette (red). Both were planted in 2010.

Frontenac Gris on the vine at Vinmark Estates

Frontenac Gris on the vine at Vinmark Estates

Our 350 to 375 Frontenac Gris plants are one of the more unique grape cultivars released by the University of Minnesota, developed to withstand the colder temperatures in the northern regions of the United States, and thus, helping the wine industry grow in new areas.

Frontenac Gris made its debut in 2003, but wasn’t introduced as a separate wine category at the Mid-American Wine Competition until 2011, thanks to an increased interest in the grape.

In fact, the Mid-American Wine Competition reports that the number of submissions in the Frontenac Gris categories has increased by double-digit percentages in recent years.

What I find so interesting about Frontenac Gris is that this varietal has so much potential on its own, as well as an excellent blending component for other interesting whites and rosés based on our wine release plan for the following year.

What drew our winery to the Frontenac Gris was its flavor profile. It has an excellent bouquet and mouthfeel, and others have noted the grape for its variability in color. The way we prepare our Frontenac Gris wine has a drier, crisp flavor that may remind some tasters of biting into a tasty pear.

“Frontenac Gris appears to have more pigments than other gris cultivars like Pinot Gris,” former University of Minnesota Enology Project Leader Katie Cook stated in a 2012 blog post. “Some wineries produce Frontenac Gris using typical white wine production methods, while others produce it as a rosé/blush. Thus, the wine color can range from a traditional white to a pink, peach or salmon.”

The importance and future of Frontenac Gris was put in the spotlight in 2009 when Prairie Berry Winery of Hill City, South Dakota, won the Sweepstakes Award for the Best Rosé/Blush in the Mid-American Wine Competition. Judges and organizers at the competition knew that Frontenac Gris had potential, but this award cemented that potential and thus led to the inception of the Frontenac Gris category.

The taste of Frontenac Gris wine varies between individuals, with a range of tropical pineapple and mango notes, to green apple tartness.

Depending on the style of processing, with whole cluster free run press, a peach/apricot and pear crispness appears. Some slight adjustments to the acidity or sweetness may yield wines that are a bit more balanced on the palate. Choice of fermentation yeast also plays a huge role in the finish of the wine from what we are experiencing. At times, an herbaceous character can be noted in the grapes fermented on the skins or when pressed as whole cluster.

Frontenac Gris whole cluster press

Frontenac Gris whole cluster press

Some tasters find Frontenac Gris wine too different with its purity, while others enjoy its unique flavor profile. Depending on the winemaker’s finishing style of dryness to off-dryness, the wines when chilled provide an enjoyable experience at our tasting bar. We look forward to hearing your opinion!


Neil Bahr is the owner of Vinmark Estates in Hastings, Minnesota. For more information about Vinmark Estates, visit


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