New Grape Varieties, New Wine Program for Arkansas
November 17, 2020
Dr. John R. Clark, professor of horticulture at the University of Arkansas, recently named two new grape varieties which have been in the University of Arkansas breeding program for more than 20 years. Indulgence, a white wine grape with a Muscat flavor, and Dazzle, a pink-skinned wine grape that produces a white wine with Gewürztraminer-like characteristics, are the final two grapes from the grape breeding project started by the late Dr. James N. Moore, professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Arkansas Fruit Research Station in Clarksville, Arkansas, in the 1980s.
There have been wineries in all 50 states ever since Pointe of View Winery opened in North Dakota in 2002, but not all regions can produce a great Chardonnay or Cabernet. As a consequence, research programs have been established to breed new grape varieties that can survive weather, insect and/or disease challenges in different areas. Breeding projects in New York and Minnesota have produced grape varieties that can survive very cold winters; other scientists in Florida and Texas have developed grapes that do well in tropical regions.
The goal of Moore’s grape breeding program was to develop new grape varieties that would have the potential to produce quality grapes in the mid-South, a region with chilly winters followed by hot, humid summers. While the program focused on table grapes (with 11 named varieties), by the late 1980s he also had more than 100 selections of wine grapes at the Fruit Research Station. When the grapes ripened, the most promising fruit would be hand-picked, and Moore would take it to the late Dr. Justin Morris, professor in the department of food science at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in Fayetteville. Morris and his assistant, Dr. Renee Threlfall, would make wine and evaluate the winemaking potential of the different varieties.
By 2016 the number of wine grape varieties had been reduced to four, and Clark named two of them that September. A white grape that was the result of a cross between Cayuga White (a New York hybrid) and an unnamed Arkansas variety was called Opportunity, and a red grape that resulted from the crossing of two of Moore's unnamed grapes was named Enchantment. The two remaining varieties are Indulgence and Dazzle: Indulgence was the result of a cross of Seyval and Muscat Ottonel that was made in 1988; and a cross of Gewürztraminer and Melody (a New York hybrid) in 1991 resulted in the variety named Dazzle.
Observations in the vineyard indicated that powdery mildew was found on leaves of Indulgence in 4 of 26 years and on fruit in one year; powdery was found on Dazzle leaves in 2 of 22 years and on fruit in one year. Downy mildew was not seen on either variety, even in heavy downy mildew years such as 2002, 2004 and 2013. Neither variety was evaluated for Pierce’s disease resistance.
The average harvest date for both grape varieties is mid-August. Indulgence had an average yield of 37 lb/vine and its juice averaged 16.5° Brix, a pH of3.2 and a titratable acidity of 0.64. The juice at crush consistently over the years had a “very strong Muscat flavor,” and regularly needed sugar additions and acid additions in some years.
Dazzle vines had an average yield of 22 lb/vine. The grapes averaged 19.4° Brix, a pH of 3.3 and a titratable acidity of .71 and, in most years, did not need either sugar or acid additions. The juice consistently reflected the “light, semi-fruity flavors” from its Gewürztraminer parent.
Both grapes survived winter temperatures down to 1° F in Arkansas with no damage to canes or buds, but neither have been tested for hardiness at lower temperatures. Heat damage also was not noted, even during some very hot summers such as 2012. Dazzle and Indulgence seem to be well-adapted to the climate in Arkansas and the mid-South and should be reliable producers in that region. According to Clark, both Indulgence and Dazzle “can be used for production of a single-varietal wine or as a blender to enhance flavor or aroma of other wines.” Cuttings will be available from Dennis Rak at Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, N.Y.
Arkansas Quality Wine Program Launched
The wine industry in Arkansas dates to the 1870s, when immigrants from Germany and Switzerland began to grow grapes and make wine in the state. The largest winery in the state, Post Familie Vineyards and Winery, was founded in 1880 and currently has 200 acres of vineyard and produces 120,000 cases per year, according to Wines Vines Analytics. Wiederkehr Wine Cellars also dates to 1880, grows 200 acres of vineyard and now produces 40,000 cases per year. Both wineries are located on the Altus plateau in northwestern Arkansas.
Today the state has 26 wineries; the University of Arkansas has had a viticulture and enology department since 1966; the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers works to unite and educate growers and assist with research; and the Arkansas Wine Producers Council, with seven members, five of which are appointed by the Governor of Arkansas, is focused on research and development of the wine industry, education, and agri-tourism.
As of October, the state has launched a new project to help the grape and wine industry. The Arkansas Quality Wine (AQW) program is part of a project funded by a two-year specialty crop block grant from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. Developed by research scientists and horticulture experts in Arkansas, AQW will "set quality standards for Arkansas-made wine, provide professional development for growers and winemakers, and entice consumers to taste the fruit of the state's vines and their unique flavors."
Dr. Renee Threlfall, research scientist at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, will be the director of the AQW program. She will be assisted by team members Amanda McWhirt, extension horticulture crops specialist for the Division of Agriculture, and Amanda Fleming, a food science graduate student and head winemaker at Post Familie Vineyards and Winery.
According to Threlfall, the AQW program will establish quality standards for commercial Arkansas wines that contain at least 90 percent Arkansas-grown grapes. An annual wine competition will have expert wine judges evaluate the appearance, aroma and tastes of the wines, and those wines will have to meet certain chemical standards. “Consumers don’t know we have quality wines in this state,” she said. An AQW seal on the wines that earn awards in the competition will help consumers identify quality Arkansas wines. In addition, those award-winning wines will receive recognition in marketing materials created by the AQW program to raise public awareness of the state’s wine industry.
The program will also include workshops and extension outreach to help grape growers increase crop production and to improve winemaking techniques for commercial and home winemakers. The goals are to get more people growing grapes, provide opportunities where they can get more information, have more possibilities for wine trails, and increase the potential for agritourism.
“I think the Arkansas grape and wine industry has needed a program like this to help with the unification and expansion of this industry, and we are thrilled with the support we are getting from the industry for this program,” Threlfall said. “Although this project is only for two years, we hope to ensure the continuation of the AQW by partnering with the Arkansas Wine Producers Council and the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers.”