French-American and Other Interspecific Varieties

The introduction of the North American pests, phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) and powdery mildew (Uncinula necator), into Europe in the mid-1800's was devastating to grape growing enterprises. French hybridizers responded by developing new varieties using wild American species resistant to phylloxera, powdery mildew or other diseases. Breeders rushed to the market with the results of their crosses in an effort to solve the crisis. These selections were usually identified with the name of the originator plus a number; many were later named.

The first products of these programs (developed by breeders and nurserymen such as Seibel, Couderc, Kuhlmann and Bertille Seyve) were widely planted in Europe, but wine quality was disappointing when compared with the traditional varieties. Additional time was required to hybridize and select improved types. Also, initial crosses utilized low quality V. vinifera grapes, such as Aramon, as parents. Aramon is grown widely in Europe, but only for bulk, not quality, wine production. Later products of French breeding programs descended from vinifera parents known for high quality wines. These more recent hybrids, such as Vidal blanc and Vignoles, have received more acclaim for their wine quality.

In the development of the French-American hybrids, the use of V. labrusca was avoided so as not to impart its strong flavor to the new selections. Many other wild American species were used, especially V. aestivalis lincecumii (the Post Oak Grape), V. rupestris (the Sand Grape) and V. riparia (the Riverbank Grape). The flavors of the French-American group are quite variable but much more subtle than the flavors of many varieties derived from V. labrusca.

More recent introductions from North American breeding programs have been based upon further crosses using French American hybrids, native American species and V. vinifera varieties. It was only coincidental that some of the varieties bred in France were adapted to conditions in New York. Varieties produced by North American breeding programs are selected specifically for their adaptation to local conditions.

Several interspecific varieties are sensitive to attack by soil borne virus diseases of the ringspot complex. These varieties include Cascade, Baco noir, De Chaunac, Ventura and Vidal blanc. Grafting these varieties onto virus resistant rootstocks is advisable for this reason.

Ripening seasons for wine varieties are listed in Table 3.

Interspecific Varieties for Red Wine Production

Baco noir

Baco noir (Baco No. 1) is an extremely vigorous variety which is best grown on heavy soils. Excessive vigor often occurs on light soils, increasing the risk of winter injury. Early bud break increases probability of spring freeze damage. The variety is also sensitive to attack by soil-borne virus diseases. The fruit is usually high in acid and produce wines of good quality which are usually deeply pigmented but low in tannin content.


Cascade (Seibel 13053) is a productive and moderately hardy variety. The medium to large loose clusters ripen early. Bird damage is often a problem. Wines are generally light in color and body with low acidity. Because of its susceptibility to soil borne virus diseases and generally low wine quality, acreage has declined dramatically since 1975 (Table 1).


Chambourcin (Joannes-Seyve 26-205) is a late ripening grape which may produce a highly rated red wine when fruit fully matures. It requires a long growing season and a site less subject to low winter temperatures. The large, moderately loose bunches set medium sized blue berries. The vine is very productive and cluster thinning is required.



Chancellor (Seibel 7053) was once widely planted in France for table wine production. It is moderately cold hardy and productive, but requires cluster thinning. In terms of wine quality, Chancellor is among the better French-American varieties. Planting might be more widespread if the clusters were less susceptible to downy mildew and the foliage less susceptible to powdery mildew.




Chelois (Seibel 10878) wine quality ranks highly among the French-American hybrids. It has, however, experienced a major decline in acreage in New York as demand for red wine decreased during the 1980's. There has been a resurgence of interest in Chelois in the early 1990's as consumer interest in red wine again increased. Chelois is suitable for blending with other red hybrids (Chambourcin, Baco noir and Chancellor) or V. vinifera varieties. Vines are healthy, vigorous and productive, but require cluster thinning to prevent overcropping. Berry splitting and subsequent bunch rots may be severe in some years. Because of susceptibility to winter damage, Chelois should be planted on better sites. Small blue-black berries are borne on compact, medium-sized clusters.



Colobel (Seibel 8357) produces a heavily pigmented juice useful for blending as a coloring agent. Wine quality by itself is poor. Vines are very productive but just slightly cold hardy. The large clusters of blue-black berries ripen late.

De Chaunac

De Chaunac (Seibel 9549) is a very productive and vigorous variety. Cluster thinning is required to maintain yield and fruit quality. The clusters are large and loose, resulting in few problems with bunch rots at harvest. Wine is only fair in quality and the vine is subject to soil borne virus problems. Because of shrinking demand, acreage has declined dramatically in recent years.

Frontenac is a recently released red wine grape (Landot 4511 x V. riparia) from the University of Minnesota, 1996. The vine is extremely vigorous, productive, and cold hardy. Foliage and fruit are highly resistant to downy mildew, and the fruit are resistant to Botrytis bunch rot. High sugar levels along with high acidity are typical at harvest. The acidity usually requires some adjustment during the wine-making process. Wines have been characterized by some tasters as having deep color with elderberry, cherry, and perfumy notes. Other tasters have found it to be too vinous and candy-like. More information on Frontenac

Frontenac Gris is a grey-fruited sport of Frontenac used to make white wines. The vine has essentially the same vineyard characteristics as Frontenac. However, the wine is quite different, said to have peach, apricot, pineapple and citrus aromas, with no herbaceous or labrusca character. This variety has not been tested at the Geneva Experiment Station.
GR 7 - ("Geneva Red 7") - (Buffalo x Baco noir) highly vigorous, highly productive and winter hardy, with moderate resistance to diseases. 'GR 7' makes dark red wines with a classical hybrid aroma. It has better tannin structure than Baco noir and De Chaunac. It still has a short finish. It is best made as a light (not heavily extracted) wine. Use hot pressing, short skin contact time or some carbonic maceration. It has a place in traditional red hybrid blended wines, and is already in limited commercial production. Predicted temperature of 50% primary bud kill in mid winter = -17.1 F *
Léon Millot (Kuhlmann 194-2) is an early ripening black grape produced from the same cross as Maréchal Foch. The wines are similar, with distinct berry aromas. Vines tend to be similar as well, although Léon Millot tends to be more vigorous and productive.

Maréchal Foch

Maréchal Foch (Kuhlmann 188-2) is a very early ripening black grape with small berries and clusters that produce a fruity light red table wine. The vines are hardy and medium in vigor and production. Maréchal Foch should be grafted on a resistant rootstock to ensure adequate vigor. Birds are attracted to the small black berries.

Rougeon (Seibel 5898) is hardy and very productive but sometimes exhibits a biennial pattern of bearing. The wine is of high color and is used primarily for blending.

Villard noir (Seyve-Villard 18-315) is a late ripening, productive variety which, on favorable sites, produces good quality red wine. For best performance, choose a site with moderate winter temperatures and a long growing season. Grafted vines are recommended to improve vigor, especially on heavy soils. Cluster thinning is also necessary to prevent overcropping.

Vincent was released in 1967 by the Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario (HRIO) at Vineland, Canada. The vine is medium in vigor, very productive and ripens late. This dark blue grape produces a very dark juice that is useful for blending with varieties with low pigment content. Care must be taken to control powdery mildew.


Interspecific Varieties for White Wine Production


Aurore (Seibel 5279) is the most widely planted non-labrusca grape in New York. Processors have used Aurore to extend the harvest season since the fruit matures in late August and early September, before most other varieties are ripe. The vine is productive and vigorous, and produces large bunches of amber colored berries. Bird damage and fruit rot are often a problem. Wine quality is poor and it is being replaced by interspecific varieties of higher quality. The major use has been for bulk wine production, frequently blended with V. labrusca varieties.


Cayuga White

Cayuga White, named at Geneva in 1972, is one of the most productive and disease resistant varieties grown in New York. Its wine has been highly rated, having medium body, and good balance. An important positive attribute is its versatility; it lends itself to making semi-sweet wines emphasizing the fruity aromas, and is also made as a dry, less fruity wine with oak aging. When harvested early, it may produce a very attractive sparkling wine with good acidity, good structure, and pleasant aromas. When over-ripe, however, it can develop strong hybrid aromas with slight American overtones. The excellent cultural characteristics and high wine quality indicate an important future for this variety in New York.



Chardonel (Plant patent 7860) was named by Cornell University in 1990 due to superior performance in Michigan and Arkansas. Cold hardiness has been nearly as good as for Seyval in New York, but good locations with long growing seasons are required to fully ripen the fruit. This cross of Seyval x Chardonnay produces an excellent wine when fully ripened, with fruit aromas characteristic of Chardonnay and Seyval. The potential for sparkling wine production appears to be good.

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Horizon, named at Geneva, NY in 1982, is suitable for production of bulk white wine. The low acidity makes it useful in blending. Wines have been described as a neutral and free of labrusca and hybrid flavors, but in some recent samples, labrusca and hybrid aromas have been noted by some taste panelists. The vine is very productive and winter hardy, however Botrytis bunch rot is a problem in some years.

La Crescent

La Crescent is a recent introduction (2002) from the University of Minnesota, formerly known as MN1166. Noted for its excellent winter hardiness and suitability to northern climates, it is usually harvested at mid-season. The white wine has a distinct apricot, citrus and pineapple aromas, and is also suitable for blending. Yields are moderate.


Melody (Plant patent 6159) was introduced by Cornell University in 1985. The young wine is fruity with hints of apricot and floral aromas. Quality is among the better of the white hybrids. The vine is moderately disease resistant (Table 2) and very productive and vigorous. Selection of well exposed canes when pruning will ensure an adequate crop each year. No cluster thinning is required. Melody is in limited commercial production and acreage is increasing.

Ravat 34
Ravat 34 is a selection of the French hybridizer, J.F. Ravat. It is early ripening, moderately vigorous, productive and winter hardy. Wine quality is good. There is limited commercial experience with this variety in New York. Yield trial results from Fredonia, New York indicate excellent potential.


Seyval (Seyve-Villard 5-276, commonly marketed as Seyval blanc) is one of the most widely planted hybrid grapes east of the Rocky Mountains. When harvested at optimal maturity, its wines have attractive grassy, hay, and melon aromas. The body tends to be thin, and malolactic fermentation and barrel fermentation/oak aging are used to enhance quality. The vine tends to overbear and must be thinned to ensure proper ripening and to maintain vine size. Grafting is also recommended on all but the most fertile sites. Fruit clusters are very susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot.


Traminette was named and released at Geneva in 1996. This Gewürztraminer hybrid produces wines of excellent quality similar in aroma to its well-known parent. There is good balance in the must between levels of sugar, acid, and pH. The vine is much more winter hardy than its Gewürztraminer parent, moderately productive, and just slightly susceptible to powdery mildew and Botrytis. Maturity is late mid-season, Oct. 5-10 in Geneva. Flavor expression with Traminette is best when the must is given some (24 to 48 hours) skin contact with 50 mg/L SO2 at 5 C. Wines made with skin contact do not develop objectionable bitterness or high pH, though this should always be monitored. If necessary, pH should be adjusted before fermentation (should be no higher than 3.4). In fruit grown in warmer regions increased bitterness and a high pH must might become a problem. Then shorter skin contact time should be used. If very long skin contact times are used, the typical floral / spicy Gewürztraminer flavors may shift to muscat-like flavors. Typically, the wines made with some skin contact have strong spice and floral aromas, a full structure, and long aftertaste. The wine can be made dry or sweet. Mouthfeel of the dry wine is good with nice texture and good spice feel.

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Ventura was developed in Ontario, Canada in 1974. A cross of Chelois x Elvira, it is a very productive, cold hardy, crack resistant replacement for Elvira. The berries are high in sugar as well as acidity, and ripen with Concord. Although considered a hybrid by its parentage, the wine has a pronounced labrusca aroma and flavor. The vine is susceptible to tomato ringspot virus and may need grafting on virus infected sites.

Vidal blanc

Vidal blanc (Vidal 256) is a heavily productive white wine grape which produces good quality wine when the fruit reaches maturity. It requires sites with long growing seasons and moderate winter temperatures. Small berries are borne on very large, compact, tapering clusters. Cluster thinning is required to prevent overcropping. Plantings in New York have increased from 35 acres in 1975 to 152 in 1990 (Table 1).


Vignoles (Ravat 51) produces an excellent dessert wine, especially when picked late. The fruit can develop very high sugar content while acidity remains high. Vines are very winter hardy with moderate vigor and productivity. Bud break is late, reducing the risk of spring freeze injury. Clusters are small, very compact and very susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot. Acreage doubled between 1975 and 1990.


Villard blanc

Villard blanc (Seyve-Villard 12-375) is a very productive late ripening grape, producing large loose clusters of oval berries. It is best on sites with a longer growing season than Geneva. Wine quality is average. The fruit may be sold as a dessert grape when fully ripe.


Vivant was introduced in 1983 at HRIO, Canada. This white wine variety is vigorous and productive but sensitive to fungal diseases (Table 2). Interest in this variety in Canada has been decreasing. No cluster thinning is required.


Several unreleased selections from the Cornell breeding program are available for test purposes. Click here for more information.


Cold Hardy Varieties Developed by Elmer Swenson, Osceola, Wisconsin

St. Croix

Several wine and table grape varieties have been developed by the private efforts of Mr. Elmer Swenson and are described below. All have been bred for high levels of cold hardiness and in general should do well in areas of New York State typified by cold winters and short growing seasons. Esprit (Plant patent 5716), a seedling of Villard blanc, is very productive with large clusters and large white berries. The variety is consumed fresh or fermented into wine but is only hardy enough for good sites in southwestern Wisconsin; it is one of the least hardy of this group. LaCrosse (Plant patent 5588) is a fruity white wine grape derived from Seyval. Compared to Seyval, the vine is more cold hardy, the fruit ripens slightly earlier, and the wine is somewhat fruitier. St. Croix (Plant patent 4928) bears medium sized blue berries on medium clusters. The vine is very hardy, vigorous, and disease resistant; very precocious in bearing. Cluster thinning may be required. St. Pepin (Plant patent 5771) is a sibling of LaCrosse, but earlier ripening and fruitier, making a fruity white wine. Winter hardiness ranks with Esprit. It must be planted near other grape varieties since it is pistillate and requires cross pollination.