Top Wines to Watch: International Cold Climate Wine Competition Winners

By: Lauren Voigt

In August, the Minnesota Grape Growers Association hosted the 10th annual International Cold Climate Wine Competition (ICCWC) in Chaska, Minnesota. The ICCWC is the only competition that focuses exclusively on wines made with fruit from cold-heady regions and included over 340 entries from 16 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces.

 

What’s a cold-climate wine?

Generally, “cold-climate” or “cold-hardy” refers to wine growing regions and varieties surviving winter temperatures that threaten the grapevines. Oregon, Washington and even Champagne, France would be categorized as “cool-climate” regions growing cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Vitis vinifera species of grapes.

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan would be described as cold-climate areas growing cold-hardy varieties such as Frontenac and La Crescent, hybrid grape varieties in the Vitis riparia species developed over the past 75 years specifically to withstand the cold temperatures.

Generally, “cold-climate” or “cold-hardy” refers to wine growing regions and varieties surviving winter temperatures that threaten the grapevines.  Oregon, Washington and even Champagne, France would be categorized as “cool-climate” regions growing cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Vitis vinifera species of grapes.

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan would be described as cold-climate areas growing cold-hardy varieties such as Frontenac and La Crescent, hybrid grape varieties in the Vitis riparia species developed over the past 75 years specifically to withstand the cold temperatures.

 

Wines to Watch

The judging panel was made up of twenty-four wine experts from six states covering a wide range of specializations in the wine industry including educators, enology consultants, importers and program managers, writers and sommeliers.

In terms of number of wines entered, Marquette was on of the top categories for red followed by La Crescent for white. Not only did these wines take top rank in terms of the volume of entries, but the quality of the varietals caught the eye of judges as well.

Ben Dale, wine director for Soginé Hospitality (Spoon and Stable, Bellecour) served as a first time judge this year and was enthusiastic about his experience sampling La Crescent, noting that the variety was “stunning, [and] easily a candidate for our wine programs” due to its “aromatics, balance, [and] mouthfeel” — an exciting prospect that the Minnesota-developed variety could be considered for a James Beard award winning restaurant list!

Echoing Dale’s excitement about La Crescent was another first-time judge, Erin Rolek, managing partner and wine program director for Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, who mentioned the competition was “a good opportunity to experience what cold-hardy varieties have to offer in a broader way,” as well as “how the winemaker’s touch can influence these wines.”

Bachelor Farmer’s cuisine is hyper-focused on locally sourced foods, with a wine list curiously lacking any regional cold-climate selections to match. Rolek noted that they have featured some locally-produced wines in the past, but feels they have been “lacking in complexity” and also that Bachelor Farmer specifically focuses on organic, and biodynamic wines, techniques not largely being explored yet with cold-hardy varieties.

 

Two-Year Champion: La Crescent, Northern Hollow Winery

For the second consecutive year, Northern Hollow Winery (Grasston, MN) has taken home one of the top awards, “Governor’s Cup”, for their La Crescent wine. The Minnesota Governor’s Cup is chosen from gold and double gold award-winning wines produced in Minnesota. If you’re looking to give their wines a sip, I suggest planning a visit to their tasting room though their wines are also widely distributed throughout the state.

In all, six trophies are awarded to the top wines and wineries in the competition, in addition 206 medals. Other top awards include Best-of-Show from each competition category, Winery of the Year (awarded based on a weighted medal count).

 

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Additional Trophy Winners

  • Winery of the Year: Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria, MN
  • Best of Show Rosé: White Marquette (2017) Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria, MN
  • Best of Show White: La Crescent (2017) Northern Hollow Winery, Foley, MN
  • Best of Show Red: “Marquessa” Reserve Marquette (2015) Chateau St. Croix, St. Croix Falls, WI
  • Best of Show Specialty: “Firelight” (2017) Lincoln Peak Vineyard, New Haven, VT

Double Gold Awardees

  • Frontenac Gris (2017), Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria, MN
  • La Crescent Ice Wine (2017), Cold Country Vines & Wines, Kewaunee, MN
  • Walpole Fort No. 3 (2015), Walpole Mountain View Winery, Walpole, NH

A full list of awardees including gold, silver and bronze medalists can be found here.

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