New Kid on the Vine

Developed in a Minnesota lab, a hearty wine grape called marquette is gaining ground in Michigan



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In the next year or two, we are going to start hearing a lot more about a versatile and fairly new red wine grape called marquette that resembles some grapes we already know: merlot and pinot noir.

But this new grape is not from that family of French and European grapes called vitis vinifera. Yet it’s beguiling, and conjures up those European heritage grapes because of its taste profile, which includes such flavors as cherry, licorice, vanilla bean, and dark berries. 

Where marquette veers away from merlot, pinot noir, and anything further to do with Europe is that it is actually a North American hybrid grape, created in a lab at the University of Minnesota, which has a very fine wine breeding program. 

What makes marquette so attractive to wineries in our area is its weather hardiness. Interestingly, some wine makers have also been talking about it as a blending wine for Bordeaux-style reds.

Small plots are already planted, and considering our recent experience with winters like 2013 and 2014 and the large level of deep-freeze crop kill those years brought us, marquette may have a big future here. 

Minnesota has produced several other popular new wines, commercially available mostly in the Midwest, such as brianna and La Crescent.

Marquette was created in 2006. In the birthing process of new wines, that means it, too, has a mother and father, who unfortunately don’t have a name, only numbers. But it also has a more distant European relative, which may shed a little light on why marquette is so beguiling: Its grandfather is pinot noir and its cousin is frontenac. 

That’s about as diverse as you can get in wine personalities. Pinot noir, of course, produces some of the most recognized red wines made in California and just about all of Burgundy, France. Frontenac is another Minnesota lab red wine grape whose parentage includes a North American family of wild grape called vitis raparia, native to this continent, but also having their own aromas and tastes patterns, one of which resembles a mild version of Welch’s grape jelly.

There are a few university-run agricultural wine breeding programs in this country, including one at Cornell University in New York, where wines such as traminette, noiret, and chardonel were born — all also grown in Michigan. Geisenheim University in Germany, perhaps the oldest riesling wine research program in the world, has also trained many American winemakers both here and in California.

In color alone, when marquette is made in a lighter style it can look like a perfect aged Burgundy, light and translucent, almost a brick orange-reddish in color. Make it heavier and it starts to thicken to look almost plummier, with a bit of a maroon tint. 

Of the 2,400 entries at the Indy International Wine Competition in July at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., several marquette wines won medals including two golds, suggesting strongly that the grape is very competitive with other red wines. 

It certainly is already getting deserved attention in areas with a climate similar to here in Michigan.

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