Cold hardy grape wines: They tried it, and liked it!

Research surveys of Michigan tasting room visitors and Midwestern wine drinkers indicate low awareness and positive acceptance of cold hardy grape varietals.

Michigan State University Extension affiliated researchers in tourism, Don Holecek and Dan McCole, sought to better understand winery tasting room customers and regional wine drinkers, and their behaviors, through a 2012 survey of visitors to 15 geographically-diverse Michigan wineries and householders in six Midwest states.

One specific goal of the effort was to establish a baseline of consumer familiarity with cold hardy wines that could be used for comparison with the future expansion of cold hardy grape cultivation in the region. Cold hardy grapes are relatively new with few acres planted in contrast to the more traditional Vitis vinifera-based hybrids.

When asked if they were familiar with cold hardy grape wines, more than 50 percent of Michigan tasting room visitors and greater than 70 percent of regional wine drinkers indicated they were not familiar with these wines. Respondent recognition of varietal names, such as Marquette or Frontenac, was very low.

As for tasting cold hardy grape wines, 65 percent of Michigan tasting room visitors and 27 percent of regional wine drinkers had done so. Most reported having tasted a blend of cold hardy and other grape wines.

Despite general low awareness, about 70 percent of Michigan tasting room visitors and regional wine drinkers who have tasted cold hardy grape wines “liked them a lot” or “liked them a little.” Dislike among both groups was less than 3.4 percent.

This study was conducted as part of the Northern Grapes Project, an initiative recognizing the emergence of cold hardy, Vitis riparia-based wine grape cultivars in the 1990s creating a new and rapidly expanding industry of small vineyard and winery enterprises in more than 12 states in New England, northern New York and the Upper Midwest, boosting rural economies in those regions. A detailed account of this study may be found at Northern Grapes Project Newsletter Volume 3, Issue #1.

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