The Marquette and Other Markers on the March to New Wine

D.S. Marvin was a grape grower and breeder in Watertown, NY in the late 1800s. In an 1879 article in the journal The Rural New Yorker he wrote the following on the suitability of different grape species for “our climate”:

“We must reject all European grapes”, he says, and almost all their hybrids (or mixtures with other species, typically native American ones). Of course this is enology of 130 years ago; that was then. Since his era, world-class quality has emerged in the form of California and Australia Cabernet Sauvignon, Californian and Oregon Pinot Noir, and perhaps Zinfandel; Ontario icewine and probably our Riesling; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; and no doubt numerous other examples.

People of course will disagree here, I’ve never had New World Chardonnay that equalled the best white Burgundy, maybe I’ve been unlucky.

But Marvin’s point remains valid I think in general terms for the central, eastern, and southern parts of North America – that’s a big area.

What do wineries grow around Watertown, NY today? One of them, Coyote Moon, states this on its website:

… we grow … Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, La Crescent, and Brianna… [These are] Northern Climate grapes created by the University of Minnesota to grow in the colder climates. Coyote Moon’s Northern Climate wines have been very well-received and garnered accolades across the country. These wines are on the cutting edge of the wine world and opening taste buds, and wine drinkers, all over the world to a whole new type of wine.

Take Marquette as an example, it is a hybrid with a complex parentage, see a description here from the University of Minnesota. It states in part:

Marquette’s high sugar and moderate acidity make it very manageable in the winery. Finished wines are complex, with attractive ruby color, pronounced tannins, and desirable notes of cherry, berry, black pepper, and spice on both nose and palate. As a red wine, Marquette represents a new standard in cold hardy viticulture and enology.

Wines and Vines notes in an informative recent article that a Vermont winery cultivates Marquette like Vinifera (which it also grows):

Shelburne Vineyard is one of just two wineries in Vermont to grow vinifera grapes. Instead, winemaker Ethan Joseph focuses largely on Marquette, a hybrid grape less than a decade old. Developed by Peter Hemstad at the University of Minnesota and released in 2006, Marquette is a complex hybrid of V. riparia, V. vinifera and French hybrid cultivar Ravat 262. One of its grandparents was Pinot Noir. In many ways, Joseph treats Marquette like a vinifera grape, and the resulting wines have garnered critical praise including four Best of Show awards at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition.

[Read more at:
Copyright © Wines & Vines].

The Riparia or sand grape is yet another native American species.

The story also explains in detail Shelburne’s aging and oak program. The winery initially used American oak, but later switched to other types due to the vanillin in the American wood being too prominent – a story familiar to those with the pertinent English beer historical knowledge. The winery now uses Hungarian oak.

I was discussing recently Norton’s Virginia, a red wine grape which holds great promise both for international distinctiveness and quality. Yet, it is a grape said to need a long growing season and like the Vitis aestivalis it largely descends from, is typically seen southerly or in mid-south-western areas. Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas are the main states it has done well, sometimes under the alternate name Cynthiana.

Note: Old books sometimes treat Norton’s Virginia and Cynthiana as closely related but different cultivars. Recent genetic mapping has established they have the same DNA; it is different growing areas that resulted in apparent specie differences.

If Cabernet Sauvignon can be grown with reasonable success in many parts of the Northeast, I wonder if modern viticulture and enology can’t contrive to grow Norton’s Virginia/Cynthiana in Niagara, especially considering the climate change factor.

Be that as it may, the work of University of Minnesota and other work to develop species for ideal adaptation to local climate may produce an outstanding grape which becomes a new global exemplar.

Maybe the wine world of 2030 will feature four or five new star grapes from different regions of North America. What will Ontario’s contribution be? We have done pretty well already with icewine! Perhaps one of the new cold-climate varieties will do stellar work here for a dry wine.

Our current wine regulatory framework will have to evolve though to accommodate any such developments…

I’ll be visiting a couple of southern U.S. cities soon, not quite in Virginia, but near enough. I hope to snag some Norton’s Virginia and give my own assessment soon.

As for Marquette, I need to get down to Clayton or Watertown to check it out at Coyote Moon. (Maybe fellow Ontarian Alan McLeod, who writes on beer,will join me. He likes a glass of wine sometimes, I think, and doesn’t live too far from Clayton).

Coyote Moon’s 400-acre vineyard is in Clayton on the St. Lawrence River, a 20-minute drive north from Watertown.

That’s the Thousand Island Region, one of the classic transnational regions in North America, which probably explains the Union Jack in one of the images above. It features along with the Stars and Stripes in a parade which Canadians were probably asked to join.

Coyote Moon also has a distillery in Clayton. And the likelihood of good beer in the area being absent is, shall we say, zero. Win-win-win.

Note re images: The first image above is via HathiTrust from the source linked in the text. The last three are from the Village of Clayton website, here. All images are the sole property of their lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.