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The Marvels of Marquette

dark grapes hanging on a vine

Meet Marquette, a genetically complex, sustainably-grown red hybrid that should be on your radar this summer. Marquette is in a class of grape varieties that were bred to be very winter hardy, productive, and fungus disease resistant, making it popular with growers who want to produce an ample and quality crop at relatively low cost. Its complex pedigree makes it a grape that is also versatile—winemakers have the flexibility to produce Marquette wines in a variety of robust styles to please a wide range of wine drinkers.

Marquette is an “up-and-coming” variety grown in the Hudson Valley and other cool climate grape-growing regions, including the Champlain Valley, New England, and the Upper Midwest. A number of local wineries produce a varietal Marquette wine or use it as a base in their blends. Winemakers north of Albany have welcomed its success. “The Marquette grape paved the way for additional cold climate varietals to begin gaining acceptance in the Upper Hudson wine region and beyond,” says Gary Akrop, owner and winemaker of Ledge Rock Hill Winery in Corinth, NY. “We were the first winery to commercially introduce Marquette wine in the region and the first to win a double gold medal [for it] in a major competition.”

Marquette’s genetic makeup includes Pinot Noir as one of its grandparents, and like Frontenac, another cold-hardy grape, shares an ancestry with the French hybrid Landot Noir. Other grape varieties in Marquette’s gene pool include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the highly-productive hybrids Villard Blanc and Plantet. Bred as “MN1211” in 1989 by the University of Minnesota, one of the foremost cold-hardy grape breeding facilities in the country, it was selected for further propagation and study in 1994, and introduced as Marquette in 2006.

Hailed as an extreme cold weather hardy grape, Marquette has been known to withstand temperatures as low as -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Known as one of the “Minnesota Hybrids” these grapes are now commonly grown throughout the cool and cold climate areas of the U.S., as well as Quebec, Canada, and Denmark.
Marquette is named after Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary and explorer who, along with the French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet, traveled the upper western Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Valley regions during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Like its namesake, Marquette wine begs further exploration by adventurous wine drinkers.

Little Intervention, Big Flavor

In the field, Marquette is healthy and resistant to diseases that commonly plague wine grapes, so expensive pesticide applications can be minimized. Marquette can be grown in an ecologically sustainable manner, reducing damage to the environment and decreasing resources needed to successfully grow it, such as the labor.

Bud break is somewhat early, so while Marquette faces the risk of sustaining late spring frost damage, it still can produce a successful, but smaller, secondary crop. Its shoots generally have two small- to medium-sized clusters with small- to medium-sized black berries, so it does not overcrop, which means that it can produce a quality wine.

Marquette ripens by mid-season, around the same time as Baco Noir or Concord, when its sugars can reach 25˚ Brix. Since it can be harvested by about the third week of September, it can be used in early-, mid-, or late-season blends. It can also be used to make a wide variety of styles including rosés, light approachable reds, substantial oak-aged reds, and sweet, fortified wines.

man in vineyard
Gary Akrop, owner/winemaker of Ledge Rock Hill Winery was the first winery to commercially introduce Marquette wine in the Upper Hudson region. Photo: Ledge Rock Hill Winery

As a rosé, Marquette retains the lively, fresh acids naturally present in this grape variety. Marquette rosé is fruit forward with aromas of soft cherries, blueberries, and cranberries. These wines are best to drink when young, while they retain their fresh flavors.

Single varietal Marquette wines are high quality with an attractive ruby-red color, and flavors of cherry, black currants, black pepper, spice, and berry on the nose and palate. “We source our grapes from a large planting of Marquette in Preston Hollow in the Catskills,” says Yancey Stanforth-Migliore of Whitecliff Vineyard, “in vintage years we bottle a single varietal. We’re excited about releasing one later this season.”

Marquette wines have a moderate amount of tannin and body in their structure that is fuller than some of the other Minnesota Hybrids, such as Frontenac. The flavors and aromas are integrated with a clean finish, and I have found they have elements of southern Rhône wines with white pepper and raspberries like Grenache, and smooth tannins and plum flavors like Syrah. The wine benefits from barrel aging and malolactic fermentation to reduce its naturally high acid levels, and to help round out the rough edges.

These deep red wines are becoming the new standard in cold-weather hybrid wines. “It’s a very versatile grape in the cellar,” adds Akrop, “it can be fermented and processed to produce a finished wine that ranges in aroma and flavor from a Pinot Noir all the way to a Zinfandel.” Marquette is often used as a component in red blends. In these wines, Marquette lends bright fruit flavors and vibrant acids that carry through from the nose to the finish.

Another style of wine that Marquette lends itself to is the production of quality, semi-sweet, Port-style wines. Marquette’s high acids and robust flavors can stand up to the addition of sweet grape juice (must) or sugar, as well as the brandy necessary to produce this style of wine. Marquette fortified wines have a deep ruby-red color, and sufficient tartaric acid in the middle to give the wine its body. It retains its fresh, but dark, fruit flavors, even with the addition of the brandy. Flavor profiles include dark black cherries, black currants, prunes, and charcoal. This style of wine is generally aged in wood to help round it out.

As a sustainably-grown grape that makes an array of high-quality red wines, Marquette adds a new and interesting facet to the Hudson Valley’s wine offerings.
Be adventurous this summer and explore Marquette at these local wineries:

MID-HUDSON REGION

  • Glorie Farm Winery, Marlboro
  • Whitecliff Vineyard, Gardiner
  • Clermont Vineyards, Clermont
  • Home Range Winery, Canaan
  • Sabba Estate Vineyard, Old Chatham

UPPER HUDSON REGION

  • Fossil Stone Farms, Greenfield Center
  • Victory View Vineyard, Schaghticoke
  • Ledge Rock Hill Winery, Corinth
  • Northern Cross Vineyard, Valley Falls

Additional reporting by Linda Pierro

Header photo: University of Minnesota, David L. Hansen

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