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CAES Evaluating New Winegrape Cultivars

By Dr. William R. Nail, CT Agricultural Experiment Station (CT Dept. of Ag 6/2010)

  JULY 7, 2010 --

Commercial winegrape cultivation in Connecticut is a recent phenomenon. While pre-Prohibition acreage was approximately 550 acres, plantings after 1920 were usually small plots for home winemaking. The passage of the Connecticut Farm Winery Act in 1978 allowed growers to make and sell wine at their farms.

The winegrape industry has continued to expand since then. Total planted acreage of winegrapes and the number of vineyards and wineries have increased each year. The farm wine industry is one of the most rapidly expanding segments of Connecticut agriculture, and grapes are the highest-value perennial specialty crop in the country. In 2010, there were approximately 52 vineyards in the state, cultivating over 330 acres of winegrapes.

Winegrape cultivar trials have been ongoing at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station since 1992, when a replicated block of hybrid grapevines was established at Lockwood Farm in Hamden.

The trial consisted of the French American hybrid cultivars ‘Chambourcin', ‘Seyval Blanc', ‘Villard Blanc', and ‘Villard Noir'. This was followed by the establish- ment of another cultivar trial at the Valley Laboratory in Windsor in 1995, which consisted of the French American hybrid cultivars ‘Cayuga White', ‘Chambourcin', ‘Marechal Foch', ‘Seyval Blanc', ‘Vidal', ‘Villard Blanc', ‘Villard Noir' and the Vitis vinifera cultivars ‘Cabernet Franc', ‘Chardonnay', and ‘Riesling'. A third trial planted at a commercial vineyard in Shelton in 2001 compares the red Bordeaux cultivars ‘Cabernet Franc', ‘Cabernet Sauvignon', and ‘Merlot'.

There were few overall differences in yield at the Lockwood Farm vineyard over the last three years, although there were some year-to-year differences. The white cultivars yielded slightly more than the red cultivars, but the overall differences were not significant. The red cultivars had slightly higher sugar levels, but also slightly higher acid levels than the white cultivars. All four cultivars generally performed well, indicating that they are well-adapted to local growing conditions.

Cabernet Sauvignon, a warm-climate cultivar, did not perform as well at the Shelton vineyard as Cabernet Franc or Merlot. Merlot had slightly lower acid than Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon, but both Cabernet Franc and Merlot are adapted to the area, which does not receive the extreme cold weather that many areas of northern Connecticut do.

Hybrid white cultivars greatly out-yielded V. vinifera cultivars at the Valley Laboratory. Riesling had low yields in most years and Chardonnay was very sensitive to powdery mildew infection. There were no differences in yield between red hybrids and Cabernet Franc, although Cabernet Franc had lower acid levels than the hybrids. Marechal Foch was the only red hybrid to have unacceptably low yields.

These results, and observational data from vineyards throughout the state, have led to an expansion of CAES cultivar trials.

New cultivar plantings were established in 2008 at Lockwood Farm and the Valley Laboratory in conjunction with NE1020-Multi-State Evaluation of Winegrape Cultivars and Clones, which includes participation from 27 other states.

The planting at Lockwood Farm is the third largest trial in the eastern US, and consists of the French American hybrid cultivars ‘Cayuga White', ‘Chambourcin', ‘Noiret', ‘NY76.0844.24', ‘NY81.0315.17' ‘Traminette', and ‘Vidal'; the Vitis riparia-based cultivars ‘Frontenac', ‘Frontenac Gris', ‘Marquette', ‘MN-1200', ‘MN-1235', ‘MN-1189', ‘Skujinsh 675', and ‘St. Croix'; and the V. vinifera cultivars ‘Auxerrois', ‘Cabernet Franc', ‘Dornfelder', ‘Grüner Velt- liner', ‘Petit Manseng' ‘Pinot Blanc', ‘Pinot Noir', ‘Rkatsitelli', and ‘Zweigelt'.

A sub-plot of border vines consists of the V. vinifera cultivars ‘Cabernet Sauvignon', ‘Gamay', ‘Lemberger' (also known as ‘Blaufränkisch'), ‘Merlot', ‘Riesling', and ‘Syrah'. The plot at the Valley Laboratory consists of the French American hybrids ‘Chambourcin', ‘Corot Noir', ‘NY81.0315.17', and ‘Vidal', and the V. riparia-based cultivars ‘Brianna' ‘Frontenac', ‘LaCrescent', ‘Marquette', ‘MN1200', and Skujinsh 675'.

The first data from these vineyards will be collected in 2010. By comparing vine performance data from those of other adjacent regions, we should be able to establish the regional adaptability of many of these cultivars to the various regions of Connecticut.



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