Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Winter injury is a serious concern in areas where subzero temperatures are more common. Native and French-American Hybrid vines generally will make it through a cold winter without issue but most premium wine grapes are of the cold sensitive species Vitus Vinifera. This is unfortunate for us northern growers, but it is not a show stopper. By applying modern viticultural techniques, these vines can be grown successfully in climates with relatively harsh winters and are common in the Finger Lakes of NY, Michigan, and even Ontario, Canada
Before even starting, it is important to select varietals that have a chance of winter survival in your climate and are capable of achieving suitable ripeness. Some of the more successful wine grapes in colder regions include Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Blaufranksich, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. These vinifera vines are generally grafted onto American rootstocks for Phyloxera resistance and some control over vine vigor.
French-American Hybrid grapes are gaining traction as premium wine contenders. Popular choices include Marquette, Noiret, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, and Seyval Blanc. These generally have much better cold hardiness, disease resistance, and can be own-rooted or grafted. Before making your decision, make sure to try wines at your local wineries and see what tastes good in your region. The climate will have a significant impact on the level of ripeness achievable and flavor profile. A Columbia Valley, Oregon Cabernet Sauvignon will taste much different than the same wine made from Sonoma County Grapes.