This week, the Ontario Government announced the addition of a new grape to the list of “authorized grape varieties” eligible for VQA certification: Marquette.
Marquette is a hybrid that was developed at the University of Minnesota’s Horticultural Research Center by crossing two existing hybrid varieties: MN 1094 and Ravat 262. One of Marquette’s “parents”, Ravat 262, is a cross of Pinot Noir with another hybrid grape – so it’s often said that Marquette is the “grandson” of Pinot Noir.
Hybrid varieties are developed to make vines more hardy and disease resistant. Marquette is known as a “cold-hardy” variety, able to withstand the long winters in Michigan, New York, Ontario, and Quebec, while still creating a medium-bodied wine that exhibits the characteristics of more traditional vitis vinifera varieties (i.e., it’s not all cheap sweet swill!). It’s also been called a “winemaker’s wine”, meaning that the finished wine can express itself very differently depending on how it’s been treated between harvest and bottling.
Marquette is far from the first hybrid grape to be eligible for VQA certification: other authorized varieties include Baco Noir, Maréchal Foch, and Vidal.
VQA eligibility is important to wineries – especially small wineries – because a VQA wine can access a broader consumer market (through LCBO stores and farmer’s markets), and tax breaks have a big impact on price and profit margins (Ontario taxes non-VQA wines at a rate that’s more than double VQA wines).
The approval process is a lengthy one and the VQA has been criticized for moving slowly on approving “cold-hardy” hybrids. Apart from Marquette, there are dozens of other hybrid varieties that are widely grown in Ontario but have yet to be approved.
Still, this is a significant development because it reflects the growing significance of Ontario’s emerging wine regions. Lake Erie North Shore, Norfolk County, Georgian Bay, and even Ottawa are experiencing huge growth in wineries and wine tourism. Marquette is one of the most popular hybrids planted in Canada, and has won both domestic and international wine awards.
If you’re looking for a bottle, you won’t find it at the LCBO – yet! – but next time you visit a winery in Ontario, look out for it and give it a try. We’ll definitely be seeing more of these wines!