Wisconsin Welcomes a New Vineyard

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Springtime saw the birth of one of Wisconsin’s newest vineyards, on the edge of the bucolic village of Cambridge, a 15 minute drive from the state’s capital city, Madison.

The Vineyards of Cambridge currently consists of 1,950 vines planted on four acres of farmland; the soil is a mix of sand, clay, and deposits of rock−otherwise known as “glacial drift.”

Cambridge Winery Frank PeregrineCambridge Winery owners Frank and Laurie Peregrine and their crew planted one acre of the vineyard each weekend in May. The vineyard will expand to 20 acres. After studying results of grape vine trials at the University of Wisconsin, Peregrine selected three hardy grape varieties, which proved to be successful surviving severe winters.

“Midwestern, cold climate grapes just don’t have the long history of centuries of selection and breeding that vinifera varieties do out in California, which mostly came from Europe,” he said.

The chosen ones were two red grape varieties; Marquette and Petite Pearl, and one white; Brianna, planted in equal amounts; 650 dormant vines of each. All three are considered newer wine grape varieties. According to Peregrine, Marquette was released in 2006 by the University of Minnesota, and Petite Pearl was released by a private breeder in Minnesota.

“The thought is that Marquette and Petite Pearl both make a very nice red; bigger than some of the Midwestern reds, and Brianna is a delicious fruit and is very prolific. I think the yields will be very high,” said Peregrine.

“The Petite Pearl has a profile somewhere between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot, it’s juicy, it’s fruity, it’s got a nice color to it. Marquette and Petite Pearl have better structure to them,” than other Midwestern red wines. Peregrine likens Brianna’s flavor profile to a California Albarino.

By early July, the varieties planted first, Petite Pearl and Brianna, were bearing small green berries. The newer Marquette plantings were still flowering.

Vineyards of Cambridge VinesThis first year, all fruit will be dropped to focus the plant’s energy back into the vine. Peregrine said they should not have to irrigate this vineyard once established. A good amount of rain fell after each weekend of planting, but they still hauled in buckets of water. Then, like a good neighbor, the village of Cambridge helped out, giving them a hookup to a fire hydrant at the edge of the property and put a meter on it.

“In the first month I think we did a thousand gallons, which cost us $4.50 for our water. It was easier than running to someone’s house to get water,” Peregrine said. Two months after the plants went in the ground, he is pleased with the health of the vines. “I don’t see a single vine yet that didn’t make it, so I think they all came through the planting process.”

The next laborious tasks include pounding vineyard posts into the ground and completing trellis systems. A winery and tasting room will be built on the 73.5 acre property and home lots will be sold surrounding the vineyard.

“We planted Petite Pearl along the lot lines. It’s got very pretty clusters. It’s a high cordon varietal. The fruit will end up about eye level,” explained Peregrine. “Each year there should be these nice purple clusters hanging a month or two for people to enjoy−hopefully they won’t enjoy them on their table.”