This past Friday, I attended the 2012 Midwest Wine Stroll at this year’s Minnesota Grape Growers Association Cold Climate Conference in St. Paul. At the last Minnesota wine tasting event I checked out, Savor Minnesota, I was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar grape varieties and spent my time zipping from wine to wine with no rhyme or reason. This time, I came in with a game plan – taste as many Marquette wines as possible.
At Savor Minnesota, I’d learned that Marquette is a descendant of the Pinot Noir and Frontenac grapes. It is a relatively new variety developed and introduced in 2006 by the University of Minnesota to thrive in our cold climate. The U of M describes the finished wine profile as “complex, with attractive ruby color, pronounced tannins and desirable notes of cherry, berry, black pepper and spice on both nose and palate”.
With these characteristics, the Marquette grape has the potential to develop into a competitive red table wine.
While Minnesota is located at the same latitude as France, Washington and Oregon, our land-locked location means that the growing season is 90 days shorter here than those other regions. This presents a serious challenge for local winemakers, as grapes take time to ripen and develop their natural sugars. Many times, the resulting grape juice is so acidic that it needs to be adjusted in some way to make it more drinkable. This must be why many wines from Minnesota are dessert-style wines.
I’m personally into red wines, the drier the better, and the Marquette seems to be the driest and most nuanced varietal that I’ve tried among the red grapes grown in Minnesota.
At the Midwest Wine Stroll tasting, it was fascinating to focus on just one varietal; it became obvious that there were clear differences from one winery to another. My friend and I tried various versions of Marquette wines, from single varietal wines to blends, and the sampled wine styles spanned from dry table wines to semi-dry (which has a little sugar added) to dessert wines. One vintner offered wine so fresh that it had not even been bottled yet – it was straight from the tank.
The wines varied greatly – some were very acidic, rough or “hot” tasting and others tasted sweet and simple. With this grape so relatively new, I think winemakers are still trying to figure it out.
My favorite Marquette wines were the single varietal wines by Parley Lake Winery (Waconia, MN), St. Croix Vineyards (Stillwater, MN) and a red blend from Cannon River Winery (Cannon Falls, MN), the Mill Street Red, which incorporates two other cold-hardy grapes – Frontenac and Foch – in addition to Marquette. These wines seemed balanced and complex.
Another friend with sommelier training swore by the Marquette from Hinterland Vineyards (Clara City, MN). While I found it a bit more acidic than my favorites, my friend pointed out that wines need some acidity in order to age well. It just goes to show that wine preferences are personal, and the ideal wine depends on whether you plan to drink it immediately or choose to store it.
I have to admire Minnesota winemakers for their passion and perseverance; winemaking is truly a labor of love. With small production, fierce competition for shelf space at liquor stores and some wines only available at the winery itself, local winemakers face an uphill battle to have people try their wines and win them over as customers.