Moscato wine is making a comeback. According to Neilson sales data, Moscato sales doubled in both 2009 and 2010 and almost doubled again last year. A recent article in Palm Beach Illustrated also reported that E&J Gallo is selling six times as much Moscato wine as they did in 2008.
For Midwest winemakers seeking an aromatic wine with a distinct Muscat flavor that can grow in cooler climates, Valvin Muscat could be the answer. Bred by Dr. Bruce Reisch of Cornell University and released in 2006, it’s an interspecific white grape variety that is more cold hardy and disease resistant than vinifera muscat. Valvin Muscat has moderately large berries with thin skins, and small, compact clusters.
With its background of Vitis Vinifera and Vitis Rupestris, it is a cross between Muscat du Moulin and Muscat Ottonel. Research has shown this variety to be sensitive to phylloxera and is usually more productive when grafted.
Valvin Muscat is an early to mid-season variety, and grows well in a range of 2000-2200 growing degree days (GGD). According to Dr. Reisch, this varietal prefers warmer mid-continental areas, although it has been known to withstand temperatures of -14F. He adds that cold tolerance depends on how well vines are managed and the range of temperatures experienced annually.
In trials conducted by Purdue University, Valvin Muscat vines were planted in two sites in Indiana. The first site, near Vincennes, is a relatively warm region (USDA zone 6a/6b) of Southwest Indiana with well-drained soils. The other site, in West-Central Indiana near West Lafayette, is a colder site (zone 5b) with heavier soils. The research indicated that vine size and yields were lower at the cooler site. The heavier soil and damaging winter temperatures below -15F are believed to be the cause of lower yields in Northern Indiana. “It has been tested in warmer conditions where it makes an excellent wine,” Dr. Reisch stated.
Bernie Parker, vineyard manager at Oliver Winery in Bloomington, Indiana, said Oliver first planted Valvin Muscat in 2003 as one of the first commercial plantings in the U.S. Oliver currently has three acres of Valvin Muscat. He said that their vineyard has approximately the same number of GDD’s as Napa Valley. Based on his experience, a healthy number of GDD’s, along with plenty of sunlight are necessary to get this grape variety to ripeness. He says that while it has survived hard winters, Valvin Muscat is not necessarily a cold climate variety.
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