La Crescent is a very cold hardy grape cultivar that produces a white wine of excellent quality, reminiscent of the cultivar Vignoles. Its relatively high sugar and acidity levels have encouraged winemakers to ferment La Crescent in a sweet or semi-sweet style. La Crescent wines commonly have aromas of apricot, peach, citrus and pineapple and lack strong herbaceous aromas or those associated with V. labrusca.
La Crescent originated from a cross made in 1988 between St. Pepin and ES 6-8-25, both selections from the breeding program of Mr. Elmer Swenson of Osceola, Wisconsin. St. Pepin is a cultivar with complex species ancestry derived from a cross between the French hybrid, Seyval Blanc, and an unnamed Swenson selection. ES 6-8-25 was selected from the cross V. riparia X Muscat Hamburg. Thus, La Crescent has a complex species ancestry that, by pedigree, is approximately 45% V. vinifera, 28% V. riparia, and less than 10% each of V. rupestris, V. labrusca, and V. aestivalis. La Crescent was selected in 1992 and tested as MN 1166.
The cold hardiness of La Crescent has been outstanding, with vines successfully tolerating vineyard temperatures as low as -38°C (-36°F) in early February with only minor bud loss. The vine is moderately resistant to powdery mildew and black rot, but is susceptible to both foliar phylloxera and downy mildew (on the leaves only). Berry splitting and botrytis have not been observed, even in wet seasons. Poor fruit set and late season berry shelling have been seen on rare occasions. Own rooted vines have grown well, even on soils heavily infested with phylloxera. Susceptibility to injury from phenoxy herbicide drift has been low. The growth habit is sprawling and vigor is moderately high. Bud break is early, similar to Marechal Foch. La Crescent ripens in mid-season (Sept. 30 in east central Minnesota), similar to Seyval Blanc. Yields have been moderate, averaging 4.58 kg/vine (3.27 tons/acre) with high bilateral cordon training, although higher yields have been obtained from vines grown using a Geneva Double Curtain (GDC) training system.
The clusters of La Crescent are medium in size, averaging 144 g and 15 cm (6 in) in length. Clusters are usually somewhat loose, although this has been variable from year to year. The berries are round, yellow-amber when ripe, and fairly small, averaging 1.4 g. Both sugar and acid levels tend to be high, averaging 25.1° brix and 11.9 g/L, respectively. The pH has averaged 3.05. For comparison, the variety Seyval Blanc when grown under similar conditions has had mean values of 20.7° brix, 8.6 g/L titratable acidity, 3.14 pH.
With a combination of both excellent wine quality and extreme cold hardiness, La Crescent appears to have considerable promise not only in the Upper Midwest, but also in Eastern grape growing regions such as Michigan, New York, and New England. In humid areas, however, La Crescent growers will need to attentively monitor and control downy mildew to successfully grow this variety.