Hybrid plants, made up of European vinifera and wild American species, are hardy plants designed to withstand pests, disease and climate conditions. Cornell has created hybrid varieties resistant to cold temperatures and powdery mildew that make for healthier hybrid plants.
Wine drinkers, particularly younger consumers, are becoming more enthusiastic about hybrid grape wines; but will restaurants follow suit?
Climate change has led many growers to turn more often towards hybrid grape varieties. Unprecedented cold snaps and warmer temperatures have increased the fragility of classic Vitis vinifera vines while providing ideal conditions for fungal diseases and insects like Pierce's disease or the spotted lantern fly to thrive.
Classic Vitis vinifera cultivation in some northern regions requires significant use of chemicals. Utilizing hybrid varieties such as Frontenac developed at the University of Minnesota could allow wine producers to produce wine with reduced environmental footprint.
Todd Cavallo and Crystal Cornish of Wild Arc Farm in the Hudson Valley are pioneering the hybrid re-revolution. At their 12-acre estate in Athens, they cultivate over 110 hybrid varieties. Most recently they joined with Milea Estate Vineyard of Staatsburg to launch the Hudson Valley Heritage Grape Project; by using lesser-known grape varieties they claim it reduces chemical sprays such as copper sulfate spraying while helping combat climate change effects.
Hybrid grape varieties such as Montreal Blues or Kay Gray often carry with them an unfavorable reputation; however, their growing popularity can be seen in areas like Vermont and Finger Lakes. Hybrids are created when European vinifera vines are crossed with American varieties; hybrid grapes combine the best qualities from each variety to produce enhanced supergrapes that often stand up well against European insect disease and extreme climate conditions.
Classic Vitis vinifera grapes can be difficult to cultivate in cold climates and require frequent spraying regimens to ward off diseases, making hybrid varieties more suited to areas seeking sustainable winemaking practices.
Todd Cavallo of Dear Native Grapes in the Finger Lakes region of New York has long championed hybrid varieties, admitting his initial hesitation but now seeing how these hybrid grapes can help adapt to climate change while being better for the environment than vinifera varieties requiring substantial spraying to remain healthy.
Grape growers must contend with numerous pests and diseases that threaten a vine's health, such as phylloxera and powdery mildew, that require them to use resistant rootstocks or abandon their vineyard altogether.
Red rot and white rot can wreak havoc across an entire vineyard block, making harvesting impossible. Flea beetles may damage primary buds or leave dead spots on leaves - in extreme cases they could even kill off an entire vine if their populations become severe enough.
Many hybrid grape varieties have been developed specifically to resist these pests. Back in the 1800s, when phylloxera devastated European wine production and left many vineyards devastated, France's Francois Baco developed his pyrazine-resistant vine, the hybrid Vitis vinifera grape Baco Noir to restore Europe's vineyards. Northern winegrowing regions then took note, planting hybrid varieties like Marquette and Frontenac which could tolerate lower temperatures while producing lighter-bodied wines without as much of their trademark dry tannin structure that distinguish traditional vinifera wines from producing heavier-bodied wines made by traditional vinifera varieties like its traditional cousins.
Your favorite natural wine likely contains grapes from hybrid varieties. These grapes are created from crossing two distinct species of grapevine - usually one being Vitis vinifera (the European variety most used to create wines you've tasted) with wild American species like Vitis labrusca. Breeders use crosses like this one to find grapevines better adapted for certain climates or resistant to diseases and pests.
As climate change emphasizes the vulnerability of classic vitis vinifera grapes, some growers and winemakers are turning increasingly towards hybrid varieties. Hybrid grapes combine European species with native American ones and can be more weatherproof. Researchers like Timothy Martinson are working in labs to reduce development times by tracking genetic markers that indicate traits such as cold tolerance. Furthermore, "differential thermal analysis" offers another means for measuring heat emitted when grape buds freeze over.