September 21, 2017

Promising Wine Grape Varieties for the Midwest

Dr. Paolo Sabbatini and  of Michigan State University

Dr. Paolo Sabbatini and Bill MacDonald of Michigan State University

Microsoft Word - vinemountsad.docx

How can we expand promising wine grape varieties across the Midwest?

Dr. Paolo Sabbatini of Michigan State University and Dr. Bruce Bordelon of Purdue University, recently discussed the potential for specific cultivars in the Midwest during the 2013 Michigan Grape and Wine Conference in East Lansing. Both Sabattini and Bordelon commented on the how young their state’s respective wine industries are. While some wine regions have had hundreds, if not thousands, of years to determine what grapes grow best on what sites, the post-Prohibition Midwest wine industry is only about 40 years old.

Indiana is now producing 1.5 million gallons per year of wine annually, with almost all growth in the industry coming since 1991, Dr. Bordelon said. In Michigan, labrusca grapes accounted for 90% of Michigan’s production until the 1970s, according to Dr. Sabbatini. Currently, there are 200 wineries in Michigan, but a substantial portion of the grapes used to make Michigan wine still come from elsewhere.

Going forward, the Midwest needs to assess wine grape potential in both the vineyard and for consumer tastes. Among the promising wine grapes for the Midwest, Dr. Sabbatini and Dr. Bordelon mentioned the following:

Valvin Muscat: “If you’re looking for a good, clean Muscat in the Midwest, there’s only one; Valvin Muscat,” Dr. Bordelon said. This varietal can ripen well and has yields per vine of over 15 pounds in Purdue’s Vincennes Indiana experimental vineyard. However, Bordelon noted that Valvin Muscat has vine health issues that might be a result of rootstock deficiencies. “The vines can be very weak and we get a lot of Muscat spot,” he said. “However, this is a winner until something better comes along.”

Dr. Bruce Bordelon of Purdue University

Dr. Bruce Bordelon of Purdue University

See related story: Valvin Muscat is Midwest’s Hot Muscato

Vinifera Muscat: Sabbatini said the vinifera Moscatos like Moscato Canelli and Muscat Ottonel could grow in Michigan, but the humidity makes growing conditions challenging. “Moscato is probably cold sensitive enough for Michigan, but it’s very sensitive to bunch rot,” he said.  “Growing Moscato in Michigan would take a lot of canopy management,” he said.

Teroldego: This northeastern Italian varietal is “our MSU viticulture team favorite red” according to Sabbatini.  Lee Lutes has two acres of Teroldego planted at Black Star Farms in the Leelanau Peninsula. Of the alternative red varieties being considered at MSU, the wine quality of Teroldego is the highest, Dr. Sabbatini said. Although the vines currently “look good,”  there have been some problems with crown gaul. At MSU’s research vineyard in Benton Harbor, Teroldego has early bud break but can wait until October to be harvested.

Photo: University of Minnesota

Photo: University of Minnesota

Marquette: One of the latest University of Minnesota red wine grapes, Marquette acreage is increasing in Michigan according to Sabbatini. In Indiana, Bordelon said that Marquette has good disease resistance and is less sensitive to 2,4-D, which is widely applied by row crop farmers in the state. Among the drawbacks with Marquette that Bordelon noted are early budding and ripening and secondaries that don’t produce much fruit. It’s also a “bird magnet” in his experience. “Marquette is a great wine maker’s grape, but it’s not yet a good grape grower’s grape,” he said.

La Crescent: Another University of Minnesota varietal with St. Pepin and Elmer Swenson parentage, La Crescent makes what many wine experts feel is a world-class white wine. However, like Marquette, La Crescent demands the skill of a meticulous and determined grape grower. According to Dr. Bordelon, La Crescent is susceptible to both phylloxera and phomopsis. Yields can be low, but the vines are vigorous and require leaf thinning and pruning for maximum fruit quality. At Purdue’s test vineyard in Lafayette, Dr. Bordelon said the yield per vine is around 10 pounds in very organic soil. Poor fruit set, shelling and bird damage can all contribute to low yields with La Crescent he said.

High tartratable acidity can also be an issue with La Crescent. At Purdue, the TA has been in the 13-14 range, according to Dr. Bordelon. “You can’t just let them hang or you won’t have much fruit left, plus the TA does not come down that much after ripening either.”

Gruner Veltliner– Dr. Sabattini noted that this varietal is “hot, hot, hot” in terms of marketing trend setters. Great Lakes Gruner Veltliner has big clusters and high yields of around six tons per acre. However, summer canopy management is essential because of laterals and second cropping, Dr. Sabbatini told the audience. Vine mortality has also been around one-third in Michigan State’s Southwest Michigan station. Dr. Sabbatini said this die off rate is too high for most commercial vineyards. However, Michigan Gruner Veltliner has good grape chemistry with brix of 20, pH of 3.5 and and TA of 4.2. The aromatics and complex structure of Gruner Vetliner make it a very marketable wine in Dr. Sabbatini’s opinion.

See related story: Michigan Grape and Wine Conference Photos










About Mark Ganchiff

Mark Ganchiff is the publisher of Midwest Wine Press, the leading source of news on the growing wine industry in the central United States. Mark has been a wine judge at the 2012 and 2014 INDY International Wine Competition, the 2014 Cold Climate Wine Competition, the 2013 Mid-American Wine Competition, the 2012 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition and the 2013 Michigan Wine Competition. He also enjoys speaking at wine events including the Cold Climate Wine Conference, the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association Annual Meeting, the Midwest Grape and Wine Conference and the Wisconsin Fruit and Vegetable Conference. Mark’s articles about regional wine have appeared in Vineyard & Winery Management, WineMaker and several regional magazines.
Mark is a Level One Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. He lives in Louisville, but also has a residence in Chicago.


  1. Entering our second year of Noiret trials and planting Teroldego and La Crescent this year. Looking forward to the results.

    • Mark Ganchiff says:

      Please keep us posted on developments in Oklahoma, you have quite the cosmopolitan vineyard!