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The secret to Wisconsin vineyards surviving harsh winters

Posted at 5:22 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 06:23:02-05

FREDONIA — It has been a long cold spell for Wisconsinites recently. Normally, that means plants dying or freezing. However, that's not the case for Wisconsin's vineyards, because they were literally born ready.

"Basically, crossbred hybrid grapes that could withstand the cold temperatures of Wisconsin," Nick Havlik of Hav Vineyards in Fredonia said.

To be clear, there are no grapes physically growing right now, but the vines are sturdy and healthy thanks to the seeds they grew from. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Cornell helped develop these special seeds for vineyards in all cold climates.

That way when the next growing season comes around, they will be ready. These vines can withstand negative -50ºF temperatures.

“If you can grow grapes in the Midwest, you can grow grapes anywhere in the world," Havlik said.

These grapes don’t make chardonnay or pinot noir, though. They make Frontenac and Marquettes, wines unique to cold climates and ones you may not see in Napa Valley, but they are just as good.

“We have wines that are throughout the states that have won international awards. national awards with the cold climate grapes here," he said.

In fact, some of the wine grown in Wisconsin is completely unique.

"Very few places in the country can - actually very few places in the world can grow ice wine grapes because you have to get grapes down to a specific temperature."

Ice wine grapes are a way of making wine. The water and juice inside the grape separate once it gets down to about 10 degrees. If the grapes are pressed within a certain time frame, it creates a unique type of wine. However, if it warms up too much, the water and juices mix, which dilutes the sugar content and ultimately the quality.

Not much happens at the vineyard during the winter, though. The work to grow these grapes begins as spring approaches.

“Basically February, March, and barely into May, we’ve got a window that we got all of the vines hand pruned.”

It’s all thanks to these special seeds, that these vines can make it through Wisconsin winters.

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