I’ve researched and grown modern grape varieties for many years, and the winners are in the ground at Epona vineyard. The results of all this research, along with my farming philosophy, are described in my book, Modern Grapes for the Pacific Northwest. Some of this information is also in a presentation I gave to the Southwest Washington Winery Association.
Bred by Cornell University in the 1960s at the Finger Lakes in New York, Cayuga is an exciting white winegrape for cool climates. It has superior disease resistance and high yields. It’s a joy to grow. Cayuga’s flavor profile sits between Riesling and Viognier, with citrus and apple flavors, sometimes peach, melon, and honeysuckle. Its only downside is mid-season ripening (a little later than many modern varieties), but in cool years it still makes a good wine, although with more crisp green apple notes. It’s perfect for a summer sipper, or use as a white wine with salads, appetizers, fish, or poultry. I have 3 rows of Cayuga. It is, at least at this time, my favorite modern white winegrape.
Leon Millot is a 19th-Century French-American hybrid winegrape bred in Alsace, France. It has the same parents as Marechal Foch and Lucy Kuhlmann, both of which I’ve grown. I find Leon to make the better wine, and have 3 rows of it. Features are many small dark blue clusters and early ripening. Flavors, if fermented on the skins, include boysenberry, chocolate, and woodsiness with a fuller body. If fermented off the skins, flavors tend towards cherry and hint of spice, in a fresher, lighter style. Ours is Leon Millot “Rouge,” or the “Foster clone.” In my view, it is the only true Leon Millot, the other one being a mis-naming of Oberlin 595.
New York Muscat
New York Muscat wins many blind-tested flavor competitions. It’s a purple, seeded grape that we’re evaluating for use in a rose wine. It is also a fantastic eating grape — and you should learn to eat grape seeds because they’re good for you. The “Muscat nose” is divine in this grape. It’s possible too many orange-peel flavors can be extracted from the skins if the skins contact the pressed juice for too long, so we are experimenting with shorter skin contact time, while still hoping for that mind-blowing bouquet.
Bred at University of Arkansas, Jupiter is a large, oval, seedless purple grape with some Muscat heritage. It grows well in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a great table grape, but it also has good chemistry for wine and we use it in a rose wine. Jupiter can make loose, more open clusters if it rains during bloom (impairing pollination), and though the clusters are straggly then, the grapes are still just as tasty.
Regent was bred in Germany’s Geilweilerhof Institute in 1967, by crossing Diana, a Silvaner x Müller-Thurgau cross and thus a Vitis vinifera variety, with the interspecific hybrid Chambourcin. Regent is more than 90% vinifera. A cool-weather red winegrape, Regent has medium-sized clusters and grapes, packed fairly tightly in the clusters. The juice has vivid color. Regent often blooms during the last week of the Spring rains here (which usually cease on or about July 5). The blooms, if wet, are highly susceptible to botrytis, which rots the flower clusters and prevents fruit set. This is the primary “Achilles heel” of this otherwise impressive grape; a lesser disadvantage is its thin skins, which are subject to predation by bees and wasps. But if healthy clusters develop, Regent makes a good red wine, similar to a Syrah in flavors.
This is an all-American grape, with no Vitis vinifera in its heritage. Despite that, Delicatessen has no “Welchy” Vitis labrusca flavor. Its neon-purple juice is mesmerizing. In the central U.S., this grape exhibits tropical, rich flavors. In the Pacific Northwest climate, those are expressed more deeply in warmer years and less in the cooler years. Due to the tight clusters, the vine needs good airflow, or can be affected by powdery mildew. It has low yields. Still, it is easy to fall in love with Delicatessen. We use it in one of our red wine blends.
Mindon is MN1095 x Norway Muscat, bred by David Roy Johnson, who thinks it’s his best grape, and I agree. I informally use the name “Mindon” for “Minnesota and “Donskoi, which is likely the grape that is called Norway Muscat. It has high yield of blue-purple seeded grapes. We use it in one of our red blends.
Bred by Bro. Kenneth Caudill in Amity, OR, this is a seedless white Muscat hybrid intended for both table and wine. It is very productive and vigorous, with that fantastic Muscat nose — my “beast in the vineyard.” We are expanding plantings of it, as the fruit is excellent in our rose.
There are a few additional grape varieties in our vineyard, including:
- Swenson Red (great strawberry flavor; Elmer Swenson’s best grape).
- As of 2019, I have 4 exciting varieties imported from a friend’s vineyard in Canada (lots of permits and red tape to go through, for that). They were bred by Valentin Blattner in Switzerland: Epicure (a white winegrape for cool climates), and VB48.05.83 (includes Cabernet Sauvignon as a parent, and wine from this grape smells and tastes like a really good Bordeaux blend!). I expect the red one to be a real breakthrough in modern red winegrapes for the “wet side” of the Pacific Northwest, though it has low yield. The two others under trial are Amiel and Labelle . I’m a U.S.-licensed distributor of the VB grapes.
- Lakemont, a seedless white.
- Reliance, a seedless pink.
Cuttings are available for purchase, in winter, for all of these grapes. Go to the Contact page and send me a message.