We are frequently asked why we don’t grow and produce wines from Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot and other Vinifera grape varieties. The short answer is that our winters are too cold and our growing season is too short for Vinifera. So, we grow Cold Climate Grapes.
Our grape varieties have, for the most part, been developed since 1945. Most are hybrids of Vitis riparia, otherwise known as the Riverbank or ditch grape and other American grape varieties. Some of these grapes also have some Vitis vinifera such as Marqette, one of whose grandparents is Pinot Noir.
Vitis riparia is native to that part of North America from Nova Scotia to Manitoba and down to North Texas. This tough grape variety is strongly disease resistant and it even resists 2,4-D. Unfortunately, its tiny grapes are not so tasty and wine made from them is totally forgettable. So, hybridizing riparia with other grapes began in earnest in the late 1940’s when Elmer Swenson, a dairyman in Osceola, Wisconsin, started making crosses in the hope of creating a table grape that he could grow in his vineyard and enjoy at home. Swenson created many grape varieties, some of which we grow in our vineyards. Swenson died in 2006 and by the late 1980’s had approached the University of Minnesota about carrying on his work. The last important cold climate grape breeder is Tom Plocher who lives in Hugo, Minnesota, about 50 miles north of St. Paul. He has developed Petite Pearl, Crimson Pearl, and Verona, all of which have been introduced since 2010.
Here are the sixteen grape varieties grown at Tassel Ridge. The Elmer Swenson varieties have (ES) after their names, and similarly, University of Minnesota are noted (UM), and Plocher varieties (TP).
La Crescent (UM)
St. Pepin (ES)
Louise Swenson (ES)
St. Croix (ES)
Foch (French-American hybrid)
Petite Pearl (TP)
Steuben (Labrusca Sport)
Crimson Pearl (TP)
We usually begin our harvest with Brianna followed by Edelweiss. We determine when it is time to harvest by measuring the total sugar in the juice and also tasting the grape to learn how good the flavors are. Our other varieties will be harvested as their sugars rise and the flavors in the juice are on target.