You don't need to be a botanist to understand that different grapes work in different places. The famous wine grapes of the world are all from the Vitis vinifera species: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and many other household names. But these grapes are relatively tender, and can't survive our cold winters unless you bury the vines. The New Brunswick growing season is also too short for them to ripen.

However, there are plenty of other grapes that are happy to grow here. They include other cultivated and wild Vitis species that are indigenous to North America, such as Vitis riparia, Vitis labrusca and Vitis rupestris. These native vines are commonly used as rootstock for vinifera grapevines, as they are hardy and resistant to the deadly root louse called Phylloxera.

Here in New Brunswick, we've learned which grapes work; it's hybrid grapes. Hybrids are crosses of various species, almost always including a vinifera grape in their breeding history. The entire Canadian commercial wine industry started with French American hybrid grapes including Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Baco Noir.

Several of those French American hybrids work in New Brunswick, including Leon Millot, but recently we've turned more to Minnesota and Wisconsin hybrids, which again are crosses of various species with vinifera in there somewhere. They are more winter hardy, ripen in our growing season, and most importantly, they make good wine. The most common and successful ones in New Brunswick include Osceola Muscat and Frontenac Blanc or Gris for whites, and Marquette and Frontenac Noir for reds.

Even if you don't recognize the grape names, be open-minded and give them a try. Experience New Brunswick wine at a tasting room or wine bar and get ready to fall in love!

Frontenac Grapes on the Vine Flying Otter Vinyard and Winery Adrian Michigan Frontenac Grapes on the Vine

Here are a few of the common grapes you'll find at New Brunswick wineries, with a description to help you understand what types of wine they’re used to make and which vinifera grapes they are most similar to:

  • Frontenac Blanc and Gris - makes fresh, crisp, fruity whites, not unlike Pinot Grigio.
  • Frontenac Noir - makes low tannin reds with cherry, plum fruitiness. Often oaked to balance the high acidity. Like Chianti.
  • l'Acadie Blanc - a Vineland, Ontario cross that makes wines with apple and citrus notes like cool-climate Chardonnay.
  • Léon Millot - can make smooth, Merlot-like reds.
  • Louise Swenson - lightly floral, fruity whites, like Muscat.
  • Maréchal Foch - when ripe, this makes light reds similar to Beaujolais.
  • Marquette - blackberry, pepper, plum, leather, spice, which puts it somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cabernet.
  • Osceola Muscat - light, fresh whites with some floral notes as well as citrus or stone fruit, like Pinot Grigio or Muscat.
  • Petite Milo - pinkish grape with tropical fruit notes, like Gewurztraminer.
  • Petite Pearl - good for blending as it makes firm reds with tannins.
  • Sabrevois - makes nice reds with good complexity, somewhat similar to Côtes Du Rhône.