September 21, 2017

Northern Minnesota Vineyard Trial Results

Data from the first phase of a major Minnesota vineyard trial has been tabulated, according to Dennis Emslie Drummond, VESTA Coordinator at Central Lakes College in Staples, Minnesota, about 130 miles northeast of the Twin Cities.

Dennis Elmsie Drummond at

Dennis Emslie Drummond at the experimental vineyard in Staples, Minnesota

Drummond planted an experimental vineyard at Central Lakes during 2011 as part of a $203,000, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The project was also supported financially by the University of Minnesota.

Growing grapes in USDA Zone 3 where temperatures occasionally reach  -30F is a challenge. However, there are now a number of commercial wineries and vineyards operated in areas where the howl of a wolf can be heard on a cold winter night.

“Some have tried to grow grapes north of here (Staples) with mixed results,” Drummond said. “Definitely the most important starting point for a vineyard is the micro environmental situation: southern slope with shelter from the west and north, good draining soil- and not too rich- and selecting the correct varieties.”

Among the 32 varieties that were grown for the vineyard project, the following cultivars stood out:

Borealis (TP 2-1-17)- This wine grape from Minnesota grape breeder Tom Plocher is “very promising, with good Brix and low acid,” according to Drummond. Most of the 2011 plantings of Borealis are healthy although the vines were slow to get started.

Drummond reports that other experimental plantings of Borealis in Barnum, MN (30 miles south of Duluth) and Buffalo, ND (50 miles west of Fargo) have demonstrated a promising level of success.

Plocher also reported that there are wineries producing test batches of Borealis wine. For the curious, samples of Borealis may be available to taste at the Cold Climate Conference in St.Paul this coming February, Drummond said.

Marquette grapes on a high wire trellis at

Marquette grapes on a high wire trellis at Central Lake Community College

Marquette- Marquette is “the best of the bunch” that were planted in 2011 according to Drummond. This variety has the most shoots “on wire” of any of the 2011 plantings.

However, both the Sabrevois and Brianna, which were planted in 2012, look better than the Marquette did after its first year.

Drummond reports that Brianna has produced quality wine when it’s made from local grapes picked at a lower Brix. However Brianna has not been as vigorous as Sabrevois in the vineyard trials.

Frontenac and Frontenac gris are doing much better this year after slowly getting established. Both types of Frontenac are being grown on both a high wire curtain and a vertical shoot positioning trellis. Currently, there is virtually no difference between vines grown on either trellis. “Maybe next year we will know if Frontenac does better with VSP,” Drummond said.

Osceola Muscat, which was developed in Wisconsin, had very good trunk size and huge foliage, according to Drummond. But the one-year-old vines restarted from the ground after last year’s mild winter provided little snow to adequately insulate the ground.

Drummond has also been experimenting with several frost prevention techniques. “Soybean oil (5%) was tried as a bud-burst suppressor last spring with no effect,” he said. “Amigo oil was not tried this year due to the late spring. KDL spray has also been tried as a frost protector.”

Many independent growers and nurseries generously donated cuttings for the program including Mark Hart, Bayview, WI, Del Schott, Bevins Creek Nursery, and Tom Plocher, Hugo, MN.

During 2013, there was an additional planting Frontenac Blanc, Valiant and Edelweiss in the Central Lakes vineyard.

After current NSF funding ends, Central Lakes College may continue to support the vineyard financially, Drummond said. The Central Lakes Agricultural Center, where the experimental vineyard is located,  is on a ten-acre site which is owned by Central Lakes College.  Central Lakes also has a 420 acre farm that is leased from the Staples Motley School District and Staples Economic Development Authority.

Through the VESTA program, Central Lakes offers associates degrees in both viticulture and enology.















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. Who bred Osceola Muscat? Is it safe to say Elmer did, or a fan of his? Seems to me there isn’t a great abundance of muscat varieties up here in MN. I’d be curious to try the wine or at least check the vine out. What’s the parents of this vine?