Is there a future for North Dakota wines? Judging by a recent tasting and the visible commitment by all in attendance, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

During the wine tasting at Red Trail Vineyard in Buffalo, N.D., several good wines were noted that the local consumer and passing tourist will want to procure and relish with their meals or as a standalone pleasure.

The “featured wines” for tasting were from the Bear Creek Winery in South Fargo, owned and operated by Rod Ballinger and his wife. The tastings started out with a numbered, light red wine, which was strongly acidic in taste, but drinkable. Next, another red wine that had a longer barrel oak time, had a smoother, more rounded taste – again very drinkable. The last one, without a dispute from anyone, was a fantastic, full-flavored red wine made from a grape known as “Petite Pearl.”

Few area residents would dispute this past winter’s severity of low temperatures, and any marginally hardy plants pretty much met their doom as a result. Petite Pearl – a hybrid grape – has survived freezing winter temperatures as low as -36 degrees. Tom Plocher, a northern climate viticulturist and grape breeder, as well as a renowned author, worked for years developing this cold-hardy and disease-resistant wine grape.

Being cold hardy is an important first attribute for our region of grape growing, but unless it is dependably productive and can make a good wine, it is of no use. The Petite Pearl grape has another quality that makes it attractive to wine viticulturists – it has a relatively low acid level, making it a good, standalone varietal wine that also serves as a valuable blending source.

The wine is a dark red, garnet color, showing complexity in aroma and flavor. The fruit flavor comes through without the ‘pucker power’ of some other northern varietals, but with a rounded tannin flavor that gives the taster the desire to take another sip.

Relatively speaking, Rod Bollinger is new to the winemaking industry, and yet he has found a way to make this hybrid wine a sure-fire, high-demand product. He plans on planting more vines of this variety because of the popularity of the few bottles he has made to date.

While Bear Creek wines were the featured formal tastings, another notable wine came to my attention. It was a white produced by the 4 Elements (4e) Winery, known as a Brianna – another cold-hardy, good-tasting wine developed by the late Elmer Swenson in Minnesota – and has been successfully grown in the northern regions. The recent plantings at 4 Elements will not be productive for another 3 years, so put it at the top of your list to sample!

Other wineries present at the Red Trails tasting were Agassiz Shores Vineyard and Orchard and Uncorked. With wineries like these getting established in eastern North Dakota, visitors and residents alike will have something to look forward to in the near future.

A final note: Mark September 27 on your calendar to attend the “Vine and Dine” festival at Red Trail Vineyard. For details, contact the vineyard at (701) 633-5392.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at

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