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Upper Midwest Winemakers to Gather

Cold Climate Conference scheduled for Feb. 20-22 in St. Paul, Minn.

by Linda Jones McKee
Vines are covered in snow and ice today in Lancaster, Pa. Cold-climate grapegrowers and winemakers will convene for the Cold Climate Conference in Minnesota later this month.
St. Paul, Minn.—Growing grapes is a challenge no matter where a vineyard is planted. But when you try to grow grapes in a region that hasn’t been able to grow them previously, the normal challenges of diseases, pests and vagaries of the weather are compounded by a lack of knowledge about cultural practices for the varieties that can potentially survive in that region.

The Cold Climate Conference was established to begin to fill that void and provide more information to those who are (or would like to be) part of the new and expanding wine industry in the upper Midwest and northern United States. This year’s 10th annual conference will be held Feb. 20-22 at the Crowne Plaza St. Paul Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, Minn., with a three-track program for viticulture, enology and marketing. Those sessions will focus on how to grow grapes in cold regions, make those grapes into wine in styles that consumers will like, and then convince those consumers to buy the wines.

According to Terri Savaryn, conference director, it is the focus on cold climates that makes this conference different from others. The program is membership-driven, and consequently it has a strong educational mandate. “We have unique growing issues in the northern Midwest, and so education is important,” Savaryn told Wines & Vines. “The trade show comes with that mandate, and we’re pleased that this year’s trade show is now completely sold out.” She expects that this year’s conference will have an attendance of more than 600.

Savaryn noted that the keynote speaker would be Carissa Mondavi, proprietor of Continuum Estate, daughter of Tim Mondavi and granddaughter of Robert Mondavi. “Carissa won’t be talking about cold-climate grapes,” Savaryn laughed. “But the Mondavi family had its origins in Minnesota. We hope she will be an inspiration for family business and give a vision for the future.” When Robert Mondavi was 10 years old, his great-grandfather moved the family from Hibbing, Minn., to Lodi, Calif., to start a fruit-packing business that shipped grapes to home winemakers in the East.

The pre-conference Best Practices Workshop on Feb. 20 will follow the three-track format of the rest of the program. The enology workshop will include Mike Jones from Scott Laboratories speaking about yeasts and tannins in the morning and Bill Skraptis of Premier Wine Blends (Austin, Texas) conducting a blending seminar in the afternoon. Three speakers from New York will focus on viticulture topics: Tim Martinson of Cornell University will talk about setting up a commercial—and profitable—vineyard; Matt Doyle will discuss operating a commercial vineyard from a New York perspective, and Terry Bates of Cornell University will review vineyard-mechanization research. On the marketing track, Elizabeth Slater of In Short Direct Marketing will present three sessions about tasting room management and cold-climate wines and their descriptors.

During the two days of the conference, the enology track will feature Dan Brick of Brick Packaging and Philippe Cuquard, winemaker and owner of Wollersheim Winery, on creating a barrel program; Dave Gusmer and Heather Wallner from Gusmer Enterprises will present an overview of wine filtration; Karine Pednault of Quebec Agrifood Development Center will conduct a sensory and chemical evaluation of 21 hybrid wines from Quebec while discussing trends in consumer acceptance for cold hardy wines, and Rob Shellhorn, an investigator with the TTB, and Paul Quast of Saint Croix Vineyards will talk about TTB regulations for the cellar and requirements for all aspects of winemaking. Finally, a panel of David Mohn and Marv Seppanen, and moderated by Kent Schwickert of Chankaska Winery, will look at winery design, financing and good starting points to consider.

Viticulture sessions will feature Pednault on factors affecting cold-hardy grape flavors in the vineyard; Martinson will look at quality fruit parameters and the results of the Northern Grapes Project from eight states; Mike White of Iowa State University will speak about herbicide drift; John Thull from the University of Minnesota will discuss recognizing cold damage, and Carl Rosen from the University of Minnesota will speak about tissue and soil analysis for grapevine nutrition.

On Friday, the wine-marketing program will begin with Rita Roberts of Saint Croix Vineyards talking about how to start a wine club. Sessions will include Eric Davis from Harvest PR speaking about social media; Ben Banks of Sovereign Estate Wine discussing label design and obtaining COLAs, and Elizabeth Slater will speak about marketing Marquette.

For more information about the Cold Climate Conference, go to and click on “Conference.”

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