For wine aficionados, South Dakota is an unlikely place to look for high quality wines that would please the most discriminating palate. However, the state is gradually growing its numbers of licensed and bonded wineries (13 existed as of 2007 – the first bonded winery, Valiant Vineyards at Buffalo Run, was only officially recognized in 1996 making South Dakota a late player in the wine trade), and the state is becoming known as a source of many unique wine varieties. If you’re traveling to or through the state, pulling over at one of the wineries might be a welcome diversion for a road weary traveler. And for the budget conscious, most wines are reasonably priced in the $10.00 to $20.00 range.
Technically speaking, South Dakota is not prime grape growing country. It is generally too dry and too cold for most of the more common wine grapes to thrive. However, there are a number of hybrid varieties that have been developed by the state cooperative extension services, notably Minnesota, that are finding a place in modern day vineyards of the Northern plains. Looking at a map of South Dakota, you will find that most of the wineries are located in the southern half of the state, where winters are a little less severe. Look even closer and you’ll find that the majority of the wineries are located in the southeastern quarter of South Dakota, east of the imaginary line known as the 100th Meridian which separates the more arid regions of the United States with those that typically receive 20” or more of rain in a given year.
Even with the challenges of growing grapes, the people of South Dakota are an industrious group and are willing to work with what they have. The majority of the wineries in the state do have some grapes wine varietals to offer to the consumer, but many are beginning to brand themselves on their fruit and honey wines as well. Prairie Berry Winery, in the harsher growing climate found in the western half of South Dakota, has begun to take advantage of the local native fruits that thrive in that region. Chokecherries, buffaloberries, currants, and rhubarbs are among many of the offerings that this and other South Dakota wineries produce. Mead, or honey wines, are also a common production varietal with local honey being used to create the final product.
The South Dakota wine industry is a fascinating thing to explore if only because it is so unexpected. As you drive across the sparsely populated state, you are guaranteed to see the typical agricultural crops of the high plains such as wheat, barley and cattle. To come across a small winery in the middle of this stark landscape is a delightful prospect – and to take a tour or sample some of the wine will introduce you to individuals who must be very creative indeed. To produce a wine that is so exquisite from such a rugged state gives you a new appreciation for what people can create when allowed to explore their wildest imaginations.