The Midwest generally isn't known for its fine wines and while there are several varieties of table grapes and juice grapes that grow in Wisconsin, most wine grapes require long, hot summers. It's tough to find high quality, hardy, cold-weather wine grapes, but viticulturalists in Wisconsin do have a few options, and some grape growers are even turning winemaking into a successful commercial venture. According to Wine Trail Traveler, in 2010, there were over 700 acres of wine grapes growing in Wisconsin.
This hardy French hybrid grape ripens early and can be used to produce good red wine. The vine does best in very fertile soil. The fruit is small, very dark and popular with wild birds. Bird scaring devices will help protect the harvest. Marchal Foch grapes will need protection in the winter in Wisconsin. In the late fall, bend the trunks so that the vines are spread out over the earth, then cover them with six to eight inches of mulch or soil.
Grow La Crosse grapes in Wisconsin to make an agreeable white wine. The vines are tender and need to be laid down and covered for the wet, cold Wisconsin winters. The white fruit ripens in the middle of the growing season.
The St. Pepin variety of grapes are closely related to La Crosse grapes, but St. Pepin produces a sweeter, fruitier white wine. St Pepin grapes are also used to make icewines. Unlike many wine grapes, you can use St. Pepin grapes for making juice or jelly, or for eating fresh, too. Plant St. Pepin grapes with another variety of grapes nearby to ensure adequate cross pollination.
Leon Millot grapes are similar in flavor to Marchal Foch grapes, and although they ripen a little earlier, they are also somewhat less hardy and are more susceptible to powdery mildew. However, some winemakers find that Millot will produce a better quality red wine than Foch grapes. Millot vines are tender and should be covered in the winter.
The best quality white wine produced in the eastern United States come from Seyval grapes. However, Seyval grapes are only marginally hardy in the cold climate of Wisconsin and the fruit may not always ripen thoroughly before the frost comes. Plant Seyval grapes in the warmest, sunniest patch of your garden, and provide heavy winter protection from November to about mid April.
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