The fruit breeding project

The fruit breeding program at the University of Minnesota began at the turn of the 20th century, and its home is the Horticultural Research Center in Chaska, MN. Since its founding, the University of Minnesota has established itself as one of the premier fruit breeding institutions in the world. These efforts include over 100 years of grape breeding and research.

2015-2023 marked a new era under the direction of Dr. Matthew Clark, Associate Professor in the Department of Horticultural Science. He led the establishment of the Grape Breeding and Enology program with support from the state legislature and UMN College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences. This split from the main fruit breeding team has allowed the Grape Breeding & Enology program to focus its research more directly on the burgeoning wine and table grape industry in Minnesota. 

The arrival of Dr. Soon Li Teh as the new team leader, as of October, 2023, comes at an exciting moment of expansion in the scope of grape research at the University of Minnesota. While the development of cold hardy cultivars suitable for wine making will continue, strong interest in sustainable, local produce has led to a large focus on table grape cultivars and enhanced production guidelines. 

Read more about the history of the fruit breeding project and the Horticultural Research Center.

Investigating genetic resistance to foliar phylloxera in cold hardy hybrid grapes

Grapevine phylloxera has been a major pest for viticulturists since the introduction of the insect from North America to Europe where it decimated the roots of the highly susceptible Vitis vinifera vines. Daktulosphaira vitifoliae (Fitch) is an obligate parasite on Vitis spp. and has moved on vines to important grape production regions worldwide. This pest co-evolved with N. American Vitis, and genetic resistance has been identified a number of these species.  Resistant hybrid rootstocks were used extensively to revitalize the industry, and continue to play a major role for pest control. Minnesota cold-hardy hybrids vary in their susceptibility to phylloxera and little research has been conducted to quantify the effects of leaf infestation, determine the genes involved in resistance, or characterize the resistance response. (Funded by Minnesosta Department of Agriculture Crop Grant Program)

VitisGen3 project

The latest iteration of the long-running USDA SCRI-funded VitisGen project, is now being administered through the University of Minnesota. Dr. Matthew Clark is serving as the project director (PD) alongside co-PDs Dr. Chengyan Yue of the Applied Economics and Horticultural Science Departments, and Dr. Lance Cadle-Davidson of the USDA ARS Grape Genetics Unit. This research has several objectives centering around the development and introduction of new grape varieties with greater disease resistance than many pre-existing commercial varieties. In order to achieve this, the Grape Breeding & Enology team at UMN will participate in the identification and testing of new genes for powdery mildew resistance and the development of sustainable management practices for the resulting vineyards. Under the supervision of Dr. Yue, consumer behavior will also be studied via an eye-tracking study that will help us understand how wine buyers navigate an information-heavy marketplace and choose more sustainable wine products. For more information, please visit the VitisGen3 website.