Grape growers and wine lovers take note: The University of Minnesota is releasing its sixth cold-hardy wine grape, Clarion.
At the University’s Horticultural Research Center (HRC), where the U of M’s Grape Breeding and Enology program is based, researchers discovered that Clarion doesn’t just produce excellent vines: its grapes continually produce high-quality, dry white wines with fruity attributes of citrus, pear, melon, apricot and chamomile. Some evaluators describe the wine as being similar to southern hemisphere Sauvignon blanc.
With a less vigorous growth habit than other cold-hardy varieties, Clarion is easier for growers to manage in the vineyard. Its grape bunches are loose, which can contribute to reduced disease and insect pressure for conventional production methods. Clarion has known resistance to downy mildew, a major pest in the Eastern U.S. due to humid and rainy summers.
U of M researchers have been growing Clarion grape vines under the research name MN1220 for more than 20 years to test the hybrid vines’ cold-hardiness, disease resistance and other attributes for commercial and backyard cultivation. Test plots have been in evaluation for over 10 years with nurseries and university and Extension partners across the U.S.
Although marginally hardy in Zone 4 (Minnesota), this selection tested well in Iowa and Wisconsin (Zone 5) as part of a national variety testing program. Limited vines will be available beginning in 2023 for vineyards.
Matt Clark, U of M associate professor of horticultural science, expects commercial as well as backyard growers in Zone 4 to experiment with the grape in small quantities, despite its Zone 5 hardiness rating.
“If they’re concerned their site is marginal, putting in a small test plot of vines — and watching the vines for several years — is a great way to evaluate the variety,” Clark says.
Past wine grape introductions from the U of M include Itasca, La Crescent, Frontenac (blanc, gris and noir), Edelweiss, and Marquette.
Since the 1970s, UMN research and the development of cold-hardy grapes have played an instrumental role in supporting grape growing in cold climates across the globe and building a strong Minnesota wine industry. The state is home to about 80 wineries, more than 60 of which currently produce wine. A UMN Extension report shows that Minnesota’s cold-hardy vineyards and wineries pumped more than $80.3 million into the state’s economy and supported more than 10,500 jobs in 2016.
Where to buy Clarion vines
Clarion will be released as an “open variety” and interested commercial growers and backyard grape growers should contact one of the following nursery licensees to obtain plants for spring 2023 planting:
- Winterhaven Vineyard & Nursery, Janesville, MN
- Double A Vineyards, Fredonia, NY
- North Eastern Vine Supply, Inc., West Pawlet, VT
About grape breeding at the University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota Grape Breeding and Enology program is based in the Department of Horticultural Science at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. Most of the grape breeding and evaluation takes place at the Horticultural Research Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota. UMN grape breeding research is also supported by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.