BUFFALO, N.D. - Steve Hogen thought a sales pitch to grow wine grapes in North Dakota was crazy. His older brother, Rodney, persuaded him to do it anyway. Three growing seasons later, the brothers can be found walking slowly through their vineyar...
BUFFALO, N.D. - Steve Hogen thought a sales pitch to grow wine grapes in North Dakota was crazy.
His older brother, Rodney, persuaded him to do it anyway.
Three growing seasons later, the brothers can be found walking slowly through their vineyard, anxiously awaiting their first crop this fall.
It's been a long wait - and a challenge to get the right varieties to grow in Buffalo's soil.
But the "big experiment" has grown on both men, just like their little plants have grown along the trellises.
Red Trail Vineyard is hosting a grand opening at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to celebrate its accomplishments.
The vineyard began in spring 2003, after Greg Kempel of Maple River Winery in Casselton, N.D., had a meeting trying to recruit local grape growers.
Rodney Hogen, a wheat and soybean farmer, was willing to try and began researching varieties being developed for northern climates.
"There's a lot of money to be made in grapes - if it all works out," he said.
The Hogen brothers partnered and started their venture two miles north of Exit 317 along Interstate 94.
That first year, they planted 120 rooted vines of two varieties, as well as 100 cuttings in the nursery area.
They built a fence around the vineyard to protect it from animals and made trellises for the vines. Grass was planted between rows to help with wind erosion and to absorb moisture and nutrients.
Last spring, the brothers planted 800 vines of eight varieties. Grow tubes were placed on about 300 plants for faster growth and wind protection.
The Hogens now have 10 varieties growing, with an additional four being tried experimentally.
"Grapes take a long time to develop and grow and sometimes they just don't work out," Rodney Hogen said.
Growing grapes can also be tricky, Steve Hogen said, because a plant will use all of its energy to grow grapes and can, in turn, kill itself.
Therefore, there needs to be a balance to keep the plant and the crop healthy.
The Hogens have studied pruning to help them understand more about caring for their plants.
Because it takes three years before grape farmers get production, the brothers will have their first harvest in September.
They hope to get seven or eight bottles of wine from each of the 120 vines initially planted.
In the meantime, the Hogens' vineyard has become a tourist attraction.
So they turned an old two-story granary into a wine-tasting room that opened last month.
Tourists learn the history of the vineyard and can sample and buy wines.
"Most people haven't been to a vineyard ever. They have lots of questions," Steve Hogen said.
The Red Trail Vineyard is named after the Old Red Trail, one of the first established trails in Dakota Territory.
Rodney Hogen hopes to add a fine-dining restaurant in the future that would offer several-course meals and, of course, wine.
An entertainment area and space to make their own wine are other possibilities down the road.
This year's harvest will go to the Maple River Winery for processing once the grapes' sugar content reaches a certain point.
Wine-making with grapes involves cleaning, fermenting and pressing, Kempel said. Then the aging begins.
"Wine making is both an art and a science. The science is that the yeast will eat the sugar that's in the grapes. It will produce alcohol and that's what makes the wine. The art is how you control that," he said.
To be part of a grape harvest in North Dakota is labor intensive but certainly unique, Kempel added.
"It's history being made," he said.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said the future of grapes in the state is unknown, but some varieties area doing well.
He plans to attend Red Trail Vineyard's grand opening.
"It's just so positive and forward looking. I really hope that takes off in a big way," he said.
Vineyard hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday. More information is at www.redtrailvineyard.com .
Anyone interested in attending Thursday's grand opening should RSVP today by calling the vineyard at (701) 633-5392.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560