12/3/2015, 9:21pm

UMN takes lead in breeding nation's wine grapes

One out of 10,000 vines fruits a cotton-candy-flavored grape. Another produces a grape with a pineapple tang, and a certain dud vaguely tastes of green bell pepper. Through years of testing, hands-on labor and patience, grapes grown at the University of Minnesota’s Horticulture Research Center in Excelsior, Minn., have become a part of a Midwestern resurgence in fruit breeding set in motion in the ’80s. A new grape variety, MN 1285 — created to withstand the state’s cold climate while remaining suitable for Minnesotan wine — is nearing the end of its roughly 20-year testing and naming period. At the start of every fall, University vineyard managers and husband and wife John and Jenny Thull spend their days harvesting ripe grapes, keeping an eye on prospective cultivars and tagging unsuccessful vines for chopping. About 40 percent of the University’s 11-acre vineyard was planted in 2007, said Matt Clark, an assistant professor in grape breeding and enology — the study of wine.  Most of the school’s vines are dedicated to cultivating cold-hardy wine grapes, which thrive in Minnesota’s cool nights and hot summer days and can’t be found in warmer climates, like in California. “I think people are romanced by the idea of growing grapes and making wine,” Clark said. On an autumn harvesting day, Clark joined the Thulls in tasting grapes one-by-one to check for subtle flavors, good and bad, that could set the variety apart. “The acids are really high, really tart, but the flavors are so strong,” Clark says, popping a grape in his mouth.

10/15/2015, 6:08pm

Anonymously Yours

Her oversized maroon bow fluttering, a girl hardly older than 5 hustled down the bleachers at TCF Bank Stadium.