Here’s some good news for New York vineyard operators who specialize in cold-hardy grapes. Yet another has been added to the list, a new white wine grape variety called Itasca.
Dr. Matthew Clark, assistant professor of grape breeding and enology at the University of Minnesota, announced the Itasca name, the fifth new variety created by the school’s breeding program. All of the grape varieties from the university breeding program have names related to Minnesota places. Itasca a state park in northern Minnesota.
The first four grapes were named by Peter Hemstad when he was the university’s grape breeder and viticulturist, beginning in 1995 with Frontenac, a red grape, followed by two white grapes, La Crescent in 2002 and Frontenac Gris in 2003, and another red, Marquette, in 2006. Clark told Wines & Vines magazine he thinks Itasca not only is cold hardy, it is disease resistant and can produce “wine quality that is fantastic.” Identified in 2009 as MN 1285, it was the result of a 2002 cross made by Hemstad and his group of Frontenac Gris and MN 1234, which has Seyval in its background and is known for its resistance to powdery mildew.
The grape chemistry of Itasca “gives a lot of opportunity for winemakers to make different styles of wine, and favor a dry style,” Clark said. The berries have flavors of melon, pear and star fruit that translate into the ultimate wine, which can also have notes of honey, quince and minerality.
Several nurseries have been preparing for the launch of Itasca and should have grapevines available for planting in 2017. Among them is the Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, Chautauqua County, a family-owned operation that supplies grapes and vines to other companies. It began production in 1990 with a small number of cuttings and today has more than four million cuttings, including more than 150 varieties.
“We have developed a unique production system which allows us to produce high quality grapevines,” says co-owner Dennis Rak. “All of our one-year vines are grown on raised beds covered with black biodegradable plastic. Each row is supplied with water and nutrients by trickle irrigation. Soil moisture is monitored with the use of tensiometers” — an instrument used to measure the surface tension of liquids — “to ensure that the vines are never stressed. The conditions created by the plastic warming the soil in the bed and abundant supply of water and nutrients are ideal for plant growth and root development. These vines are well prepared for planting and vigorous growth in the spring.”