Cold Hardy Grapes Having Big Impact
Cold-hardy wine grapes developed by the University of Minnesota and private breeders since the late 1990’s have generated a new and vibrant farm winery industry, pumping $401 million and 12,600 jobs into the United States economy in 2011, according to a study released by University of Minnesota Extension researchers Bill Gartner and Brigid Tuck.
The key to this economic impact was the release of four new varieties–Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and especially Marquette–all products of the University of Minnesota’s grape-breeding program. Unlike more well-known wine grapes, these varieties can survive winter temperatures below -20F. This has allowed grape production in areas where growing grapes was previously impractical due to winter injury problems.
New growers and wineries have expanded fast. Since the first grape variety, Frontenac, was released in 1996, producers in 12 states have planted an estimated 5,400 acres of cold-hardy grapes, including 3,260 acres of the U of M varieties. Eighty percent of the 199 wineries surveyed started their businesses after 2002.
“The development of cold-hardy grape varieties has completely changed the grape and wine industry in colder climates,” said Gartner, an Extension educator in tourism. His colleague, Tuck, is an Extension economic impact analyst. “In Midwestern states, such as Minnesota, over 90 percent of the grapes grown are from cold-resistant varieties. States like New York, with a long history and tradition of growing grapes in regions with temperate climates, can expand the industry into new regions with colder climates.”
Other findings of the research include:
- Locally sourced wineries created $215 million in economic activity in 2011, including 5,000 jobs, from cold-hardy grapes.
- Cold-hardy wineries drew tourists to their tasting rooms. In 2011, those winery visitors spent $140 million while visiting the wineries. Their purchases created 1,700 jobs.
The Northern Grapes Project, which is funded by USDA’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, provided funding for the study. States participating in the Northern Grapes Project include: Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.