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U of M wine researcher Anna Katharine Mansfield.

U of M wine researcher Anna Katharine Mansfield

Seeking a cup of the cold-hardy: U enology project helps develop good, native wi

U enology project helps develop good, native wines

By Gayla Marty

Published on August 28, 2004

Note: The U of M's grape breeding program will hold its annual open house and fall tour on Saturday, September 11, at 10:00 a.m. at the Horticultural Research Center (at the corner of Highway 5 and Rolling Acres Road, just west of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum). For more information, see winegrapes.coafes.umn.edu.

Standing in the vineyard on a cool morning, one sure sign that you're in Minnesota instead of California or France is the gambrel-roofed barn of a neighboring Midwest farm.

University wine researcher Anna Katharine Mansfield is testing a grape with a refractometer to measure its sugar content. Will it make a drinkable wine?

Minnesota wine grapes

Red wine grapes

Frontenac

The first of the University of Minnesota's line of cold-hardy grapes (1995) produces a medium-bodied wine with distinct cherry and black cherry flavors. It's the No. 1 variety in Minnesota vineyards.

Saint Croix

One of the most popular grapes developed from the work of Elmer Swenson, known as the godfather of Minnesota and Wisconsin viticulture, produces a medium-bodied wine with good fruitiness and aroma.

Marechal Foch (mar-e-shal fohsh)

This French grape is popular in the United States and one of the most widely planted in the Midwest.

White wine grapes

LaCrescent

The second U of M grape (2001) is made into a high-quality, semi-sweet wine with citrus and tropical fruit aromas.

Frontenac Gris

The U vineyard was the site of a happy accident when one of its Frontenac vines produced a white grape. Due to be released in 2004, this coppery peach colored grape has notes of apricot and tropical fruit.

Saint Pepin

This popular Swenson variety makes a clean, very fruity and grapey white wine, as well as a good-tasting juice.

LaCrosse

Another Swenson variety that produces a wine of good body and character, LaCrosse is often used for blending and has become popular as a dry, oak-aged varietal.

Adapted in part from "Wine Tour of Minnesota," a brochure of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.

Mansfield points out the classic vines--Vitis vinifera--which produce traditional wine grape varietals, like Merlot or Chardonnay, their gnarled trunks trained to hug the ground so the vines can be buried to protect them each winter. Not far away, rows of Minnesota vines bearing cold-hardy grapes stand straight up. The vineyards are at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where a new winery was completed in 2000 with funds from the state legislature and strong support of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association.

The goal of the U's grape breeding and enology program is to breed grapes that combine the good taste of classic varieties and the cold-hardiness of northern types. While the University isn't the only place doing research on cold-hardy grapes, it's the chilliest--with temperatures ranging from -40F in winter to 100F in summer. A grape breeding program began in 1907, but it wasn't until the end of the century that grape growing and winemaking were seen to have economic potential for the state. So far, four cold-hardy grapes have been developed at the University of Minnesota, including the still-to-be-named Minnesota 1211.

A North Carolina native who earned her undergraduate degree in English, Mansfield's work in a wine shop, vineyard, and then a winery led her to graduate study in enology. With an M.S. from Virginia Tech, Mansfield could have worked in any number of wineries.

"Nothing really exciting was going on [in the industry] when I got a call from up here," she says. "The chance to make wine from brand new grapes--that was exciting."

Now in her third season, Mansfield's busy time begins in late August, and peaks from mid-September through mid-October. Each year, more than 100 different grapes are used to make about 150 small experimental lots of wine. By Thanksgiving, the fermentation is done.

Then the tasting begins.

"Some Friday afternoon we'll say, 'We haven't tasted 1200 in awhile. We need to know how it's maturing in the bottle,' so we'll pull some out and try it," she says.

Marmalade, apricot, candy, spice, honeysuckle, melon, cedar, tar, horsey--tasters use robust language to describe the nose, palate, body, finish, and notes of wines.

"My favorite part of the job is the sensory," Mansfield says. "I like teaching people how to taste wine."

In addition to staying in contact with grape growers and wine makers across the state, Mansfield helps to educate the public about Minnesota wines and teaches on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul.

One of the biggest challenges of developing new wines is selling them, says Mansfield. The selection Minnesota wines in most local stores is usually limited. Mansfield urges supporters to visit Minnesota's wineries, most open to visitors from March through December.

Minnesota wines at the state fair (August 26 to September 6, 2004): The only wines licensed for sale at the Minnesota State Fair are produced in Minnesota. This year, wines from several local wineries will be available at Schumacher's New Prague Hotel state fair location, 1701 Carnes Avenue (across from WCCO radio).

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