Hot as the August temperatures are, research has been ongoing for wine grape growers, studying ways to breed cold-hardy grapes and how best to cultivate them.
Wine grapes are considered a high-value crop, which comes under the purview of Harlene Hatterman-Vallenti, professor and assistant department head in North Dakota State University's Department of Plant Sciences. With her research team of graduate students and technicians, strides have been sufficiently made to give the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association members some bragging rights.
One of the members of the research team is John Stenger, a Ph.D. candidate carrying on germplasm work, a process of using living tissue from which new plants can be grown, employing a technique developed by Tyler Kabanat of the University of Saskatchewan. The goal is to develop "super cold-hardy" grape cultivars that can survive temperatures of at least 40 below, and produce a good-tasting wine at the same time.
Another member of the team, undergraduate Brittany Olson, is using pruning and leaf removal to ripen grapes and encourage cold tolerance.
Since 2002, when owner Jeff Peterson opened North Dakota's first licensed winery, Pointe of View Winery (www.povwinery.com), until today, the list of producers has grown to 12, with two more getting licensed this year and two more in development.
Before summer vacations are over and the kids are back in school, make plans to visit some of these wine pioneers and enjoy some of their good wine.
• Red Trail Vineyard - Owned by Rodney and Susan Hogen, the vineyard is located in western Cass County, near Buffalo. Wine tasting by appointment. Visit www.redtrailvineyards.com.
• Wolf Creek Winery - Owned by Randy Albrecht and located near Coleharbor, Wolf Creek produces wine from cold-hardy grapes and native fruits from along the lake. Go to www.wolfcreekwinerynd.com.
• Bear Creek Winery - Owned by Sue and Rod Ballinger, just south of Fargo, they have a fantastic Petite Pearl that to date has proved cold hardy and produces a delicious, full-bodied red wine. Go to www.bearcreekwinery.com.
• 4 Elements Winery - Owned by Lisa and Greg Cook, just south and east of Casselton. The Cooks are developing five grape wine varieties, with one in particular that is bound to become a favorite, Brianna, a white. Go to www.4elementswinery.com.
• Agassiz Shores Orchard and Vineyard - Owned by Mark Vining, just north off the Absaraka exit. Mark operates the Rookery Rock Winery, with four acres of vineyards and eight acres of orchards. Call (701) 280-2470.
• Uncorked - Owned by Kathy Swiontek, 1700 32nd Ave. S., Fargo. Kathy's store sells take-home wine-making supplies and assists customers to create their own batches of wine, which are processed at Uncorked. The customers get to sprinkle the yeast to start their own batch, then bottle it upon completion. I can give personal testimony to this being fun, as I take my wine history students to her store every fall semester. The students get a kick out of filling their own bottles, corking and placing labels on them. She also performs processing services for Red Trail Vineyard, using their own grapes.
With the continued research focus and determination, these vintners and scientists at NDSU possess, the North Dakota wine industry is going to be an increasingly tourist attraction as plantings expand and mature.
Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.