Marketing Specialist, Danielle Huber
It’s a constant battle in the wine industry to please the consumer. We’re always trying to evolve the pallet, improve the vessel, and advance the process. As consumers, we want to pay less and get more. That’s why we have boxed wine! We want convenience. Hence, wine bottles with screw tops, stemless glassware, and the popular new cans of wine that can be taken to the beach or the pool.
As growers, we want the biggest fruit, with large, full but loose clusters that don’t crack or drop prematurely. We want plants that yield large crops consistently without the use of hormones or pesticides. Essentially we want the perfect grape, but by no means do we want a GMO. Now I don’t know about you but no one is truly perfect, and neither is any grape or wine, not unless it was created under a microscope. And since we’re not in that business we have yet to find the perfect grape.
As breeders, we are canvasing the world for varieties with ideal characteristics and listening to our consumers to determine just what they’re looking for in their “perfect grape.” We try to figure a way to grow wine grapes that taste like they are from France or Spain but in our own backyards thriving through the polar vortex or under the pressure of Pierce’s disease. Without a microscope, we dust European pollen on the flower clusters of a hardy, disease tolerant American or Native variety, hoping that somewhere along the way we’ll come up with just the right cross that will evolve the way we grow grapes and consume wine.
Hybrids are the path to the perfect grape. No, they may not have it all, but they have the best combination of the most ideal characteristics in a grape. You want to spray less. Grow hybrids. You want to lose less to the next arctic chill that comes your way. Grow hybrids. They don’t need to be all you grow, but they can be your insurance. Below we’ve listed a few hybrids that we think can hold their own in the great hybrid/vinifera debate!
Baco Noir: Baco is an extremely vigorous variety that is best grown on heavy soils. Its fruit is usually high in acid, producing wines of good quality that are deeply pigmented and fruity.
Chambourcin: Chambourcin is a late ripening grape that can produce a highly rated red wine when fully mature. It requires a long growing season and at least 3000 GDD to fully mature. Vines tend to over-produce, so some cluster thinning is often necessary to produce high quality, deeply colored and aromatic wines.
Corot Noir: Corot Noir produces distinctive deep red wine with attractive berry and cherry aromas and can be used for varietal wine production or for blending. Corot Noir is considered to represent a distinct improvement in red wine varietal options available to cold climate producers.
Geneva Red: Geneva Red is highly vigorous and highly productive. Can make a dark red wine with classic hybrid aroma and with better tannin structure than other hybrids such as Baco Noir and De Chaunac
Marquette: Marquette is rapidly becoming the most popular northern red grape variety. Typically maturing with high sugar content and moderate acidity, Marquette can produce complex wines with attractive ruby color and pronounced tannins, often with notes of cherry, berry, black pepper, and spice.
Noiret: Noiret produces an excellent full-bodied, richly colored wine. The wines can resemble Shiraz (Syrah) with a distinct black pepper character, moderate tannins, and notes of raspberry, blackberry and mint. Vines are vigorous and tend to have low yields; use vineyard practices that favor high fruit zone exposure.
St. Croix: St. Croix produces wines that have been compared to a light to medium burgundy. Sugar content and tannins are low at maturity, but St. Croix has been used both as a varietal and for blending.
Cayuga White: Cayuga White is one of the most productive and disease resistant varieties grown in New York and was Cornell University’s first variety released specifically for winemaking. This versatile grape can be made into a semi-dry to sweet wine and is often blended with other white hybrids such as Seyval and Vidal. Winemakers often prefer Cayuga White to be harvested at relatively low (17°-18° brix) as riper fruit can begin to develop undesirable native characteristics.
Chardonel: Chardonel is a productive, late-ripening white wine grape with improved winter hardiness over its Chardonnay parent. Can produce an excellent white wine when fruit is mature. Like Chardonnay, wines can be fermented and aged in stainless steel to produce fruit forward wines, or they can be barrel fermented.
Itasca:Itasca is the newest cold-hardy release out of the University of Minnesota Breeding program. Itasca produces a dry white wine that is light yellow to straw in color and has aromas of pear, quince, violet, melon, minerals, and subtle honey notes. Itasca has exhibited lower acidity and higher sugar levels., Showing a high resistance to downy and powdery mildew and the insect phylloxera. Itasca is considered a very hardy, disease resistant cultivar expected to reduce spray inputs.
La Crescent: La Crescent is one of the more popular Northern varieties and includes Muscat Hamburg in its geneology. La Crescent has high acidity and is used to produce off-dry to sweet wines, typically with apricot, peach, and citrus characteristics, and is also used for dessert and late harvest wines.
Seyval Blanc: Seyval Blanc is one of the most widely planted white hybrid varieties in cooler regions of the eastern US. Vines are typically overly fruitful and require some cluster thinning.
Traminette: Traminette is a Gewürztraminer hybrid that produces excellent wines similar to Gewürztraminer but with much more winter hardiness than its parent. Wines are distinctive and spicy and may be finished dry or semi-dry.
Vidal Blanc: Vidal Blanc is a productive white wine grape with medium-sized berries borne on very large, compact tapering clusters. Vidal can produce a semi-dry varietal wine and is often blended with other white hybrids. Fruit has thick skin and is highly resistant to fruit rots so can be used to make late harvest style wine and ice wine.
Vignoles: Vignoles produces small, compact clusters highly susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot. Fruit can develop high sugar content while maintaining acidity, so Vignoles can be used to make late harvest dessert wines in addition to dry to semi-dry table wines.