Cold Country Vines & Wines

A Grape Story

Temperature and ClimateFrosty Winery

The majority of the world’s wine producing regions are between the temperate latitudes of 30◦ and  50◦. Within these bands, the annual mean temperatures are between 10 and 20◦C (50 to 68◦ F). The presence of large bodies of water and mountain ranges can have positive effects on the climate and vines. Nearby lakes and rivers can serve as protection for drastic temperature drops at night by releasing the heat that the water has stored during the day to warm the vines.

Climate is the most significant factor in determining a grape’s inherent qualities. Each grape species has a uniquely preferred environment for ideal growing. Selecting the best strain is an important decision in grape cultivation. Temperature and rain are unpredictable and uncontrollable which means each year will produce unique qualities and yields of grapes.


Ideal temperatures in summer average around 22◦ C (72◦ F) which enable grapes to ripen. Temperature and sunshine are the most important factors in ripening.


Ideal temperatures in winter average around 3◦ C (37◦ F). Ideal winter temperatures are necessary to allow grape vines to enter their resting phase. If temperatures fall too low, the crops can be injured.

Spring and Fall

Spring and fall are critical seasons to grape development. The plants are susceptible to spring and fall frost damage, which can injure the fruiting buds.

Grapes in Wisconsin

Grapes have always grown in the Midwest; wild grapes are often used for jams, jellies, and juice. Many of the vinifera varieties of wine grapes would grow in the upper midwest but they could not withstand the cold winters.  

Cold Climate Grapes Pioneer

Elmer Swenson (12 December 1913 – 24 December 2004) was a pioneering grape breeder from Osceola, WI.  He introduced a number of new cultivars and revolutionized grape growing in the Upper Midwest and other cold and short-seasoned regions.

Elmer in partnership with the University of Minnesota began a cold climate grape breeding program in 1985. In 1996 they introduced Frontenac which is now popular in the Midwest, New England, and Quebec. 

Patented Cultivars Developed by Elmer Swenson

  • St. Croix
  • St Pepin
  • La Crosse
  • Espirit
  • Edelweiss
  • Swensen Red
  • Kay Gray

 A few Hybrid grape varieties Elmer released with the University of Minnesota

  • Frontenac
  • Marquette
  • La Crescent.


Wine Grapes in the Cold Country Vineyard