Years ago, former state Rep. Bill Pietsch called me to ask some questions about the possibility of getting a grape wine industry going in North Dakota.
I gave him the name of a friend and former professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock who started everything from scratch in the late '70s for the high plains area of Texas. Bill learned of all the hoops he had to jump through to get a winery started in what was considered the Bible Belt of America. Lubbock was a dry city at that time, and no retail alcohol could be sold within the limits; it was sold just outside the city line and transported back for consumption.
Needless to say, that has all changed today.
From that inquiry at the beginning of the 21st century, Jeff Peterson opened Point of View Winery, North Dakota's first licensed winery, in 2002.
Since that time 15 years ago, the combined efforts of an NDSU researcher, research assistants and graduate students has resulted in the wine grape industry growing steadily to become a tourist attraction for the state.
Under the guiding hand and leadership of Rod and Susan Hogen, along with the determination of others like Rod Bollinger and Greg and Lisa Cook, NDSU dug into the possibility of getting some winter hardy wine grapes established that would make a drinkable wine.
Dr. Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, a professor in the Plant Sciences Department at NDSU, undertook this action by recruiting some promising graduate students to get into the nitty-gritty of wine grape hardiness and identifying grapes that would make a drinkable wine.
The first challenge - getting cold-hardy tolerant grapes to withstand negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit - was undertaken by John Stenger while pursuing his Ph.D. His work involved using living tissue to accelerate grape establishment that would make the cut and have good taste as well.
Another member of the team, master student Brittany Olsen, studied techniques of growing and management of the vines to encourage cold hardiness. She also studied a semester in Australia learning the subtitle skills - art and science - of viniculture from an experienced wine grape grower and winemaker.
There is more to this story than space will allow, but suffice it to say that Brittany has been offered and taken a position with Gallo wine in California; with that news, Rod Hogen of Red Trail Vineyard in Buffalo, North Dakota, hosted a steak dinner with some local wines on hand to enjoy, get Brittany off to a good start, to thank everyone involved with the industry and to look ahead to a growing, viable future.
It was a capacity gathering of 25 wine aficionados including producers, growers and researchers mentioned earlier.
Everything was perfect: food and wine, but especially the Hogens' generosity.
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.