The University of Minnesota Grape Breeding Program has made significant contributions and their releases could very well be considered the reason we have a wine industry in Iowa and the Midwest today. Interspecific cultivars such as Frontenac, Marquette, La Crescent and most recently Itasca have been widely planted throughout the Northern USA largely due to their improved cold hardiness compared to the Vitis vinifera cultivars planted throughout much of the rest of the wine producing world.
This year another cultivar has been released, but with a smaller amount of hype due to some limitations. Clarion (formerly known as MN1220) is a white variety that has some cold-hardiness concerns for northern states like Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin. However, this cultivar is well suited to Iowa’s climate, the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute is excited about it.
I was fortunate to taste wine made from this grape at the 2022 Iowa Specialty Producers Conference, and I was very impressed. The wine has strong acidity, but well balanced with minerality, not unlike a Chablis. At the tasting, Matt Clark, the U of M associate professor of horticultural science responsible for the release, mentioned that their program had all but given up on releasing the cultivar due to its marginal cold hardiness. Due to an article published by Iowa State University (Schrader et al., HortTechnology, Dec. 2019 29(6), https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTTECH04475-19), Clark and his team realized that the cultivar was more suitable for a slightly warmer climate, and had merit to be released.
The cultivar was recently described in a press release as:
With a less vigorous growth habit than other cold-hardy varieties, Clarion is easier for growers to manage in the vineyard. Its grape bunches are loose, which can contribute to reduced disease and insect pressure for conventional production methods. Clarion has known resistance to downy mildew.
The Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute is excited to see growers adopt this cultivar in their vineyards, and believes there is a great potential for it here in Iowa. Information on where to purchase Clarion vines is also in the recent press release.