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Recommended Grape Varieties for the Colorado Front Range

By Jim Bruce

'Ristvin'
Jim Bruce

Jim has been growing grapes in marginal areas since 1974. He currently runs the Rist Canyon Vineyards. Rist Canyon vineyards is a varietal trial and research vineyard in the Colorado Front Range Foothills.

If you have transversed my website you know that I am a private research vineyard in the Colorado Front Range Foothills. One of the main concerns when I started the Rist Canyon Vineyard was would grapes grow here in our short-season, cold winter environment. To determine this I began with a grape varietal trial to determine which varieties were best adapted to my marginal grape growing conditions.

The grape varieties which I selected ranged from those varieties which I knew to be winter hardy and early ripening to grape varieties which I knew would be marginal in their adaptation to my conditions. Many of these grape varieties were planted for use in my breeding program based on fruit, growth characteristics, disease resistance, or other quality characteristics. But the main reason for planting this spectrum of varieties was to get a handle on my unique environmental parameters that this growing site displays.

Every year since the formal establlishment of the vineyard has been a test year in one sort or another. I've undergone late spring frosts, early fall frosts, droughts, cool-wet springs, record hailstorms, and relatively cold winters (no test winter yet). From the experience of the past few years, there is a picture arising of grape varieties which have shown consistently to survive and produce a crop under the marginal growing conditions of my site in the Colorado Foothills (7300ft).

The following is my list of grape varieties which I believe to be those which are suitably adapted to the growing conditions of the Colorado Front Range and areas of the country which consist of short-season, marginal growing seasons:

RED GRAPE VARIETIES

  • Foch:  This early ripening variety is a standard in many marginal growing areas. Foch is winter hardy down to -25F. It's semi-upright growth habit makes it adaptable to many styles of trellising. Under my conditions I find it vigorous and productive, producing an outstanding wine which ages well and can be used to produce a spectrum of wine styles. Clusters and berries are small. Foch makes an outstanding blending wine. Foch has shown powdery mildew late in the season after harvest here at the RCV. Foch and all the Kuhlman hybrids buds out early making it susceptible to late spring frosts.


  • Leon Millot:  Millot is a sister seedling of Foch and has many of the same characteristics. Millot is winter hardy, vigorous, and here at the RCV it is more productive than Foch. Its growth habit is a bit more rampant than its sister, Foch and shoot positioning is a necessity. It has not shown any disease here since I've been growing it. Millot does ripen a week or so before Foch at this site.


  • Neron:  Neron is another Kuhlmann hybrid but differs from Foch and Millot with Kuhlmann using a different vinifera parent in the cross. Neron has been a surprise to me. It is much more vigorous than Foch or Millot. The growth habit is a bit more trailing. It is the latest of the Kuhlmann hybrids to bud in the spring. Neron produces medium-sized clusters with slightly larger berries than Foch or Millot. This grape ripens with Foch or just slightly afterwards. Neron has been free of disease at the RCV. The wine has been the surprising part with this variety. I was told that it didn't make a good wine but have found that on this site, with my conditions, the wine is on par with both Foch and Millot with the yield much greater.


  • Joffre:  Joffre is the ultra-early sister of Foch and Millot. This is a variety which can be grown in the shortest of seasons. Not as winter hardy as the other Kuhlmann hybrids, it has always survived fine here at the RCV. The clusters are longer and looser than the other mentioned varieties with small berries like Foch. The vine is similar in vigor and productivity to Foch. I have used Joffre only in blends so I can't comment on it as a varietal.
  • Lucy Kuhlmann:  This Kuhlmann hybrid is much like Foch and Millot. It has a very similar growth habit with the clusters being a bit looser and earlier in ripening. The wine is similar but with its own likeable taste. It makes a good blender. Real promise for this area.


  • To continue on to page 2 of this discussion of recommended varieties, CLICK HERE









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