Cold Hardy Grape Documentary Debuts
The short-form documentary “Cold Climate Grapes Uncorked” premiered Saturday, June 14, 2014, at Sovereign Estate Vineyard and Winery in Waconia, Minnesota. The husband-and-wife team of Marcus and Emily Taplin launched a Kickstarter campaign to get funding to write, direct, and produce the documentary. Emily is a television news reporter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, while Marcus works for Fox Sports in Minneapolis.
The couple became interested in cold-climate grapes after visiting wineries near their home, including Vino in the Valley in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. After discovering the hybrid wine grapes specifically designed to grow in the Midwest, they decided to share their newfound knowledge through the documentary.
“Based on what we do professionally,” Emily said, “we wanted to do this as a side project and teach others what we were learning. [The documentary] is geared toward people who’ve never stepped foot in a winery.”
Marcus said a main reason for making the documentary was to spread the word about how accessible wine is in the Midwest. “We wanted to get the word out about what the University of Minnesota is doing up here,” he said. “We want to let others know that California isn’t the only place where you can take a wine tour. You can do it in your own backyard.”
Winemakers, scientists, and vineyard owners who appear in the documentary include: Peter Hemstad, University of Minnesota researcher and co-owner of St. Croix Vineyards; Katie Cook, Enology Project Leader of the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, Teresa Savaryn, owner of Sovereign Estates Winery, and Ben Banks, the winemaker for Sovereign Estates.
At the documentary’s premiere, Peter Hemstad said the wine grape breeding program at the University of Minnesota is unique among American universities. According Hemstad, the research being done at the U to develop new varieties of grapes is only done in a “handful” of other top research facilities including Cornell University in New York and the Geisenheim Institute in Germany. Wine grapes developed and licensed by the University of Minnesota include Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent and Marquette.
“There are quite a few [research programs] that work on cultural practices to optimize grape growing or wine making,” Mr. Hemstad said. The other programs, in places like Arkansas and New York, have different priorities than our research.
“They don’t have the same goals as the University, like developing cold-hardy, disease-resistant grapes that produce a high-quality wine,” Hemstad said.
Being a current viticulture student myself, I was curious to know Hemstad’s thoughts regarding how Minnesota sets itself apart from other states by creating and designing its own cultivars.
“I think [it makes a difference]. There’s a big spillover from our research. It’s had a tremendously stimulating effect on the local industry,” he said. (The Minnesota wine industry has grown from two wineries in 1990 to over 50 wineries today.)
But it’s not just the local industry that’s been impacted. Hemstad said that states surrounding Minnesota, areas of New England, and even states in the western U.S. are growing Minnesota grapes.
“I think that’s great: our primary mission is to develop the Minnesota industry, but it’s great that other people are taking advantage of our work as well,” Hemstad said.
Teresa Savaryn, the co-owner of Sovereign Estates Winery, where the “Uncorked” premier was held, said that she was happy to work with Emily and Marcus for the documentary.
“We were delighted that they used us as part of their research. The documentary is a snippet of what’s going on in the local wine industry,” she said. “There are so many variations of the Minnesota wine industry–from very small garage-style wineries to modern, commercial-style wineries–we’re somewhere in the middle.”
Sovereign Estates Winery’s winemaker, Ben Banks, said that the industry is particularly successful in Minnesota because of the high quality of the grapes grown.
As for the documentary’s release party, the festivities of the night included delicious wine tastings and food pairings. Some of Sovereign Estate’s wines that were sampled include their 2011 Seyval Blanc, 2013 LaCrescent, 2012 Blue Loon made from the Traminette grape and their 2013 St. Therese Rose–a new release.
Despite a massive downpour that accompanied the premiere of the documentary, many people attended the release party. Held under a white tent and decorated beautifully with lights, Jeff Carver’s jazz trumpet performance before and after the documentary set the mood for a wonderful evening.
Marcus Taplin told Midwest Wine Press that the documentary will be uploaded to its own domain during July. Investors who pledged during the Kickstarter campaign will be sent a web link, he said. Eventually the documentary will also be available on the Minnesota tourism and Minnesota Grape Growers Association websites.
Theresa Preston is currently a VESTA viticulture student residing in St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s on a mission to enlighten others about the wonderful cold-hardy varietals of the Midwest!