A Sampling of Wine Grape Cultivars Being Tested by the UNL Viticulture Program

Paul E. Read, Professor of Horticulture/Viticulturist and Stephen Gamet, Research Technologist
University of Nebraska Viticulture Program, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture


Named in 2002, Brianna is an Elmer Swenson introduction (ES 7-4-76). It is a cold-hardy white winegrape that is easily managed in the vineyard and appears to tolerate 2,4 D drift. It can be made into a pleasant semi-sweet white wine with tropical fruit aromas in the bouquet.

Cayuga White

Cayuga White was introduced in the early 70s. It displays many of the characteristics of Vitis labrusca including its leaf shape and growth habits. It produces large full clusters on vigorous vines. Cayuga White (as is the case for Edelweiss) should be picked before it is fully ripe. Wines made from fully ripened grapes lack refinement and often display labrusca characteristics. More testing is required to determine hardiness.


Chambourcin own-rooted and grafted on 3309 Couderc are in our research plots. Both are doing very well and show a lot of promise. It is a red winegrape that has long loose clusters that will ripen later in the season. It appears to be more cold hardy than vinifera but is less hardy than some other French-American hybrids such as Marechal Foch. It is a cultivar with outstanding wine quality.


Chardonel is a white winegrape with a Chardonnay character. It was introduced in 1990, resulting from a cross of Seyval x Chardonnay, originating in Geneva N.Y.  Clusters of Chardonel are medium in size and the berries are slightly loose within the cluster. Could easily be trained on a single high cordon system or a Geneva Double Curtain. It has been reported to be very productive, producing 5 tons/acre or more.

Cynthiana (synonym: Norton)

Cynthiana is the grape that Missouri vineyards have planted in the greatest acreage. This vine is slow to start, but catches up rapidly, producing an abundance of clusters. The grape clusters are small, but numerous, producing a wine that is a dark red with a full body. Vines in the research vineyards show 2,4-D damage but it appears to have limited effect on the plants themselves. Trellis systems used to support Norton can be as simple as a Single High Cordon or a Geneva Double Curtain. This is a cultivar to consider for trial plantings in southeastern Nebraska.

deChaunac (Seibel 9549)

deChaunac is a French-American red hybrid that has performed very well in Nebraska vineyards. It is hardier and more resistant to disease than many other French-American hybrids and has been made into excellent deep red, full-bodied wines. It usually bears well on secondary buds, often producing nearly a full crop following the loss of primary buds to low temperatures. Smallish berries are borne on medium-sized, somewhat loose clusters.


Delaware is pink-skinned hybrid grape, thought to be derived from Vitis labrusca, V. aestivalis and V. vinifera. It is an attractive grape in the vineyard and its wine is pleasant, fruity, and essentially devoid of the "foxy" characters associated with many V. labrusca-derived cultivars.

Edelweiss (ES 40)

Edelweiss was bred by Elmer Swenson and introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1980 and has become very important to Nebraska's wine industry. Vines show strong vigor in our research sites, producing large loosely formed clusters of white grapes. The best wines made from these grapes are picked at 14.5 BBrix level sometime around the first week in August in eastern Nebraska. The plant is very disease resistant and somewhat 2,4-D tolerant.

Frontenac (MN 1047)

Frontenac is a potentially high yielding later ripening red winegrape introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1995. It will produce a loose, medium-to-large cluster of blue-black medium sized grapes. It appears that over-cropping could become a concern and cluster thinning may be necessary, both for fruit quality and vine vigor for the coming season. It has exhibited good disease resistance, but is one of the first to show leaf phylloxera, which does not appear to significantly slow the plant's growth.

Lacrosse (ES 2-9-4)

Lacrosse is one of many introductions by Elmer Swenson, a private breeder from Osceola, Wisconsin, that have been so vital in the establishment of a wine industry here in Nebraska. This 1983 cultivar is disease resistant and tolerates 2,4-D; it is also very winter hardy. The vines have proven to be of medium vigor and very productive, producing a tight medium size cluster of white skinned grapes. It is a versatile grape that can be made in a wide range of wine styles of excellent quality.

LaCrescent (MN 1166)

LaCrescent is a white winegrape that has shown good vigor in our research plantings. Long, somewhat loose clusters of small berries turn golden in color as they ripen. Excellent fruity wines have been made from this 2002 introduction.


Lemberger is a red vinifera cultivar and (if you can get past its name) makes a top quality wine. It has shown the ability to withstand the cold weather at our three eastern research sites, with good vine vigor and fruit set. Powdery mildew has been a problem but a good spray program should be able to control this. It produces nice long large clusters on vertically growing plants. This cultivar is worth looking at more closely. It must be grafted on a phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

Leon Millot (Kuhlman 194-2)

Leon Millot produces small, somewhat loose clusters of blue-black berries that are among the first to ripen in the season. This cold hardy cultivar could be a useful variety for most areas in the state. It produces a quality wine that is good for blending.

Marechal Foch (Kuhlman 188-2)

Marechal Foch is relatively cold-hardy and is one of the most popular and widely planted red French-American winegrape hybrids in the Midwest. Bred by Eugene Kuhlman in Alsace, it is named after a famous French World War I general and resulted from a V. riparia – V. rupestris hybrid crossed with V. vinifera 'Goldriesling.' Clusters are small, often tight, but can be highly flavored. Jancis Robinson says "It produces fruity, non-foxy wines with a very loose... similarity to Pinot Noir."


Niagara was introduced in New York in 1872. It is a vigorous, productive vine and is reputed to withstand cold temperatures. We have not noticed any disease problems with it, or little if any 2,4-D damage. More research is necessary to determine the potential usefulness of Niagara.

Seyval Blanc (Seyval, Seyve-Villard 5276)

Seyval Blanc is a French-American white winegrape developed by Seyve-Villard about 1930. It is moderately cold-hardy, medium in vigor and has good vineyard characteristics making it easy to prune, manage and harvest.  It can be made into a variety of wine styles, employing malolactic fermentation in oak or in stainless steel, fruity and flavorful on its own or suitable for blending with other white winegrapes.

Saint Croix (ES 2-3-21)

Saint Croix is another grape developed by Elmer Swenson that is also important to Nebraska's wine industry. It is a vegetatively vigorous red winegrape cultivar that produces medium sized slightly loose clusters of grapes. Because of its vegetative vigor, it is important to leave a sufficient number of buds to encourage good crop production levels to balance this potentially excessive vegetative growth. In the research vineyards it has shown moderate to good disease resistance and excellent cold hardiness.


Traminette is a cross between Joannes Seyve and Gewurztraminer released by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in 1996. Wine made from this grape is very similar to that of Gewurztraminer. This year the plant has performed very well at our Kimmel location. At the other locations the fruit set hasn't been quite as good, although plant growth has been good. The poor fruit set may be attributed to climatic conditions. We are encouraged with what we have observed so far.


Valiant was introduced by R.M. Peterson, South Dakota State University, and is among the most cold-tolerant grapes grown in Nebraska. It matures very early and produces attractive blue-black berries borne on compact 4-inch clusters. It is considered to be an especially good juice grape.

Vidal Blanc (Seyve-Villard 12375)

Vidal Blanc has been a major player in Michigan for more than 25 years. It's a later budding and ripening grape with a reputation for being a consistent producer. This should be a plus for Nebraska's unpredictable spring and fall climate. It is also a grape that makes a better wine when harvested before full maturity at no more than 22BBrix (although late harvested Vidal is made into an exceptional ice wine in Ontario). Fruit clusters are large and open so far in our plantings and show no signs of any disease or insect problems as of yet.

Vignoles (Ravat 51)

Vignoles has been a good performer and has shown promise the last two years. It has been relatively cold hardy so far but produces smaller clusters. Yields will be only moderate to low but the wine quality is high. Grape clusters are generally compact and tight, making them susceptible to disease, so close observation will be necessary.

The project was stimulated in 1997 by a generous grant from the Richard P. and Laurine Kimmel Charitable Foundation, together with support from the University of Nebraska's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Land at three southeast Nebraska sites was selected in 1997 and planting began in May of 1998.  Installation of experiments and additional plantings continued in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 at these sites, with "on-vineyard" projects begun at three other locations in 1999, 2000 and 2001.  After planting -- the research began.

Please note:Where the data for cultivars is presented please remember the following:

Note: numbered entries (e.g. ES 2-1-9, NY GR-7, MN 1131) represent advanced selections from plant breeders Elmer Swenson, a private breeder from Osceola, Wisconsin; Dr. Bruce Reisch, Cornell University, Geneva, NY; and Peter Hemstad and Dr. James Luby, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.