MAPLETON, N.D. – While his peers were reading comic books, Greg Cook spent his childhood free time at the local library poring over everything he could find about fermentation.
It was a fascination that persisted into adulthood as he finished schooling, moved to Fargo and started teaching chemistry at North Dakota State University.
Now, Cook and his wife have converted an old farmstead near Mapleton into a vineyard and winery that's open for business. But his interest in wine has changed a bit after a couple of decades of making it at home.
"Being a scientist, I approached it first from the science perspective," he said. "But then I realized that it's a lot more than that. I'm relying less on the science and more on the taste and the art."
Still, the name of the business-4e Winery, as in the four elements of earth, fire, wind and water-shows science is on his mind.
4e Winery's tasting room, which opened last month, is open on a seasonal basis from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Cook and his wife, Lisa, lived in Michigan and California before moving to Fargo in 1996.
They bought the farmstead about a mile and a half off the Casselton exit along Interstate 94 west of Fargo a few years ago and decided to start a winery.
The couple set about remodeling the farmhouse, converting it into a tasting room, and added a large, two-story deck on the side.
The garage became the production facility, outfitted with gear they found through estate sales and auctions, and they got to work late last year making the first batch of 120 cases.
They're offering five wines this year: apple, dry rhubarb, sweet rhubarb, aronia berry and a blueberry and lemon blend.
While their current wines were made with locally sourced fruit whenever possible, Cook said his plan is to focus more on locally grown grapes in future years-and he already has five varieties growing in their vineyard that should be ready for a first harvest next year.
4e will boost its production to 500 or 600 bottles for the 2016 season, he said, and they hope to get bottles into local restaurants and liquor stores.
13th in N.D.
4e was the 13th winery license in North Dakota, a state that not long ago many thought of as only producing sweet fruit wines.
But Cook said things are rapidly changing thanks to ongoing research to produce cold-hardy grapes that can flourish here.
Several wineries are already clustered in this area of eastern North Dakota - and that's OK with the Cooks.
"Every wine's different, every winery's different and every winery experience is different," Lisa Cook said.
Not long from now, the Cooks said they can imagine a multi-winery passport to attract visitors for a full day of tasting and touring. In its own way, eastern North Dakota could become a mini version of other world-famous wine areas, such as Napa in California.
It might not boast the same ocean views, but Lisa Cook said their property has its own charms visible from the second-floor deck.
"It's just amazing how beautiful it is up here," she said. "We had to kind of develop that because it's not Napa Valley; it's not Montana. But there is certainly a lot of beauty to be seen here, if you can look for it."
The couple still lives in Fargo and spends weekends at the farmstead. Cook plans to stay at NDSU even as they work on the business, and said he finds his time at the farm relaxing.
"After work, this is therapy," he said. "A lot of people have lake places. We have this place."
What: 4e Winery
Where: 3766 156th Ave. S.E., Mapleton, N.D.
Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, seasonally
Contact: (701) 936-9693