How Minnesota Has Become One of Top Places for Wine Grapes

You can grow wine grapes in the cold state of Minnesota?

You bet you can. Forget California, the clean and crisp cold-hardy Minnesota grape varieties is where it’s at!

Wine grapes have been cultivated in Minnesota for decades, with over 40 wineries all over the state.

Minnesota’s cold-climate grapes started with horticulturist Elmer Swenson. A third-generation Swedish farmer, Swenson began breeding grapes in 1943 on his farm in Osceola, Wisconsin. Swenson specialized in using French hybrid grapes and a local wild species, Vitis riparia, to create a cold-hardy grape variety.

In 1969, Swenson started a job at the U of M caring for fruit crops and cultivating his cold-hardy wine grapes. He eventually released two hybrids with the U of M, Edelweiss and Swenson Red, which are still grown today.

The University of Minnesota is one of the country’s top wine grape research programs.

The University of Minnesota (U of M) has strived for decades in making the best cold-hardy wine grapes. Their goal? To “develop high-quality, cold-hardy and disease-resistant wine grape cultivars.” The U of M started studying wine grapes in the 1970s with Swenson, and the enology (study of wine) lab and research winery began in 2000.

Today the U of M has over 12,000 experimental vines across 12 acres. The University has over 400 named varieties and selections with about 100 in advanced tests. The grape varieties are tested for cold-hardiness, disease resistances, cluster size, growth habitat, bud break, and ripening times.

The evaluation process doesn’t happen over night. It lasts for 15 years or more before a new grape is released to nurseries! These grapes even make their way to New England.

Make sure to enjoy every last drop of that Minnesota wine.

Current grape varieties from the University of Minnesota

*Please note, besides the joint-released Edelweiss and Swenson Red, the varieties are patented by the U of M, propagating these vines without a license is prohibited.

White Wine

  • Frontenac blanc
  • Frontenac gris
  • Itasca – newest variety
  • La Crescent
  • Edelweiss

Red Wine

  • Marquette
  • Frontenac noir

Interested in growing grapes in Minnesota? Click HERE.

Looking for a winery in Minnesota near you? Click HERE.

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