Due to harsh winter conditions growing grapes for winemaking in Montana is tricky business but along with that comes the legal ramifications for those growing (and hoping to grow wine vineyards in this state). What’s more is the grapes needed for the climate are a hybrid of sorts. Read the fascinating article below to learn more.
It was a warm morning in early September, and Roxann McGuire was walking through the crop rows at Willow Mountain Winery, strategically sampling grapes off the vines. With every grape she tasted, she was looking for the signature combination of acid and sweetness that tells her the grape is ready to be harvested.
McGuire has trained her palate to be able to taste this nuance — through years of experience in the wine country of Italy, the vineyards of Argentina, and beyond. Today, she uses that expertise in a location that isn’t known for its wine prowess but someday could be: Montana.
The grapes that Roxann and Brian McGuire grow here are cold-hardy interspecies hybrids. Nearly all well-known wines — malbec, merlot, chardonnay, and more — are made from Vitis vinifera grapes. V. vinifera is a European grape species that consistently produces great wine but is not amenable to cold environments. In the U.S., you’ll find V. vinifera permeating California wine country, Oregon, and Washington.
But in the last half-century, researchers — most notably at Cornell University and the University of Minnesota — have been experimenting with breeding V. vinifera with grapes that are indigenous to the United States.
These interspecies hybrids are more cold-hardy (some withstanding temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit) and are more amply disease-resistant. They taste differently from wines that people are commonly familiar with, and these unique flavor profiles are something that the McGuires like to embrace and explore.
“I have said over and over, you’ve got to let the wine be what it is,” Roxann McGuire said. “Montana wines are different. Don’t expect them to be what you’re used to — know that they’re different when you try them and enjoy that they’re lighter and fruitier.”
McGuire walked over to a row of grapes that are going through a process that viticulturists call “veraison” — turning from immature green to a dark, full purple, and broke one open onto her palm, noting the garnet-colored juice that flows out of the rupture. These grapes are almost ready to harvest.