The Itasca grape, released two years ago by the University of Minnesota, is seriously promising. But it’s too new for wine production, which usually unfolds in the third year of vine growth.
But there’s another auspicious young white grape in Tundraland: Frontenac blanc. It was not bred, but created itself in cold-climate vineyards in 2005. Just as pinot blanc came about as a mutation of pinot noir, Frontenac blanc “cropped up” (sorry!) as a mutation of Frontenac, a red grape released by the university in 1996.
And boy, is it tasty. At this month’s Spring Wine Fest tasting, Frontenac blancs from Saint Croix, Sovereign, Crow River, Wild Mountain and Indian Island (yum) were my favorite set of wines, uniformly crisp and clean with fresh flavors ranging from pear and citrus to tropical fruits and honey. Unlike the other whites that have thrived here, these wines finished dry, but still rich.
Also noteworthy at the tasting were several Marquettes, the U’s red-grape release. But a dozen years after it started being planted, Marquette still lacks a firm identity because it is getting so many widely varying oak treatments, from low or no oak to super toasty and/or vanilla-y.
While I prefer minimal oak — the heavier treatment to me often makes Marquette taste like any ol’ oaky red — I know many consumers like the new-barrel (or chips) treatment. As well they should; it’s their palates, after all, not mine.
What consumers should do when they visit Minnesota wineries — which all wine enthusiasts should, presuming that spring and summer actually arrive — is ask the person pouring or selling the wine about the oak treatment. At the very least, they’ll know after they taste it what they think of that style.
More news about Minnesotans, expats actually, who migrated to the West Coast:
• Grace and Ken Evenstad, owners of the justly renowned Oregon winery Domaine Serene, have pledged $6 million to Linfield College to go toward wine education. Linfield, with campuses in McMinnville, Ore., and Portland, is the only U.S. college to offer an interdisciplinary liberal arts bachelor’s degree in wine studies.
The Evenstads spend most of their time in Oregon and Florida these days, but lived here for decades. Last year, they sold Maple Grove-based pharmaceutical company Upsher-Smith.
“Ken and I were drawn to the fact that this new and unique program will focus on all aspects of running a successful and sustainable wine business,” said Grace Evenstad.
• The 2014 Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery, owned by Gopher State transplant Betty O’Shaughnessy, was named best overall red at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Full disclosure: I was one of the judges. Fuller disclosure: The wine was fantastic, well deserving of the award.
• Neither of these items are late-breaking, but both are significant. There’s one fewer Minnesota connection in Napa (but still a large contingent), as Twin Cities real estate consultant Peter Kitchak has sold his winery, Kitchak Cellars. Meanwhile, St. Paul native Kent Rosenblum is back helping steer Rosenblum Cellars, the winery he sold in 2008; the wines had faded in popularity since the Gustavus Adolphus grad-turned-dentist-turned-vintner departed. Kent and his daughter Shanna are still making wines at Rock Wall.
• Finally, Bloomington native Shane Finley has another new wine. The winemaker at Russian River Valley’s Lynmar Estates, Shane has his own label and collaborates on other vinous projects.
The new release, which hit shelves this month at the same time as the always-outstanding Shane Ma Fille Rosé, is a 2016 zinfandel from Kirschenmann Vineyard’s century-old vines. It’s super-fresh but hearty and bold, showing uncommon restraint and great balance for a Lodi Zin plus a seriously smooth finish, and sells for $20.
The wine is called “Constant Disruptions” and features a vintage photograph of Shane’s parents looking a bit more like California flower children than suburban Minnesota parents. As for the name: Finley said that’s the way his folks characterized his childhood: “full of constant disruptions.”
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.