Over the last several years, a new industry has been carefully growing in Vermonts chilly, overcast climatewine grapes.
While not yet ready to take on the famous vintners of Californias Napa and Sonoma valleys, a growing number of Vermontersincluding several in Addison, Chittenden and Rutland countiessee a bright future in producing grapes for wine.
Much of the optimism for wine grapes in Vermont and similar cold climate areas is the result of breeding work conducted at the University of Minnesota, Cornell University and by the late private breeder Elmer Swenson of Wisconsin.
These winter-hardy grape varieties, with names like Frontenac, St. Croix, LaCrosse and LaCrescent, make vineyards possible in areas that were once considered too cold for wine-grape cultivation.
Many of these new cultivars are rated as hardy (-15F to -25F) and even very hardy (-25F to -35F), making them candidates for cultivation in most parts of the state.
While cold hardiness is an important factor in survival of grape vines in Vermont, prospective grape growers and vintners need to also pay close attention to soil conditions, especially drainage.
In general, ideal soils for growing grapes are well-drained. Thus, many western county sites in Addison and Chittenden located in clay soils will be unsuitable even though they are close to Lake Champlain. However, well-drained sloping sites in places such as mid Addison County with western exposures are likely to be the best sites. Vineyard placement should also allow for good air drainage, too.
Vintner Bruce Mina has found a good locale for his new vineyard of Frontenac grapes in Addison, Vt. The vineyard site is well drained and near the lake. Minas choice to plant Frontenac wine grapes was a good idea, too; this hardy grape reflects the best characteristics of its parents, Vitis riparia 89 and the French hybrid Landot 4511 grape.