A Taste of South Dakota

On our mission to taste wines from throughout the country, our first stop was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As a colder climate that isn’t particularly conducive to vinifera grape-growing, our experiences found that wines produced from hybrid grapes and fruit were most prevalent, with some vinifera varieties produced using mostly fruit grown in other regions. Our tasting experiences ran the gamut and provided us with an opportunity to taste locally-produced hybrid grape and fruit wines.

Prairie Berry Winery, Hill City, SD
A beautiful new facility, a large selection of wines produced on property, a sunny and dog-friendly patio, a selection of sandwiches, charcuterie, and cheeses- there is a little bit of everything at Prairie Berry. We initially chose to visit Prairie Berry because a) we were familiar with the brand, though had never tried their wines and b) some initial investigating indicated that a fair amount of their wines, primarily the fruit wines, were produced using South Dakota fruit and we love to help support wineries that embrace the use of local fruit.

Provided with a tasting menu that lists 25 wines, it was a bit overwhelming to narrow our selections down to the five wines that we chose to taste. We each picked five, so that we could ultimately try ten different wines. In order not to totally overwhelm you, we’ve chosen to highlight three that intrigued us for one reason or another.  We won’t list everything that we tasted, but will comment that we had our first tasting experience with Chokecherry and Crab Apple wines and that they are definitely unlike anything we’ve ever tasted.

Anna Pesä 2015 Bläufrankisch
The 2015 Bläufrankisch is from Prairie Berry’s higher-end line of wines named Anna Pesä in honor of the winemaker’s great-great grandmother and produced in a more traditional European style. Having little previous experience with Bläufrankisch, we were pleasantly intrigued by our tasting. Very light red, lighter than many of the rosés that can be found for sale, the wine had high acid and was very tannic giving it a somewhat chewy feel. Aromas of rhubarb and cherry with flavors of sour cherry candy and hints of oak initially made this not one of our favorites, but was interesting enough that we went back the next day to grab a bottle to share with two former CWC wine club members that happened to be in the area (great to see you, Goolds!).

Needles Eye
A non-vintage blend of Chenin Blanc and juniper berries, Needles Eye was intriguing right from the start with aromas of juniper, sage, pink grapefruit, with perhaps a hint of blue fruit. While expecting some sugar, the palate was dry and pleasantly balanced with high acid and flavors of pink grapefruit, pink Starburst candy, and green apple. This was our favorite of the day and we ended up purchasing a bottle to add to the tiny collection in the Airstream. Imagine limiting your wine cellar to just 12 bottles- it’s an adjustment, believe us!

Red Ass Rhubarb
As Prairie Berry’s most popular and award-winning wine, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to taste the winery’s top selling wine. Made from 90% rhubarb and 10% raspberry, this semi-sweet wine delivered as promised with a fruit-forward palate that unsurprisingly had rhubarb and raspberry as its most dominant flavors.  Tart, yet standing up surprisingly well to the fair amount of sugar, the nose reminded us of the cherry Otter Pops of our younger years, with hints of raspberry and rhubarb. Not our usual preferred style; however, it isn’t hard to imagine why this so popular with the sweet wine drinking crowd.

In addition to the wine tasting, we enjoyed a very tasty lunch on one of two outdoor dog-friendly patios. The turkey sandwich and hummus plate were the perfect way to refuel for our trip to Mount Rushmore and a drive on Iron Mountain Road.

Stone Faces Winery, Hill City, SD
Our second SD winery visit took us to Stone Faces, just a few miles down the road from Prairie Berry, at the suggestion of one of their tasting room employees. We wish we could say that we had another great experience and tell you to add it to your must-visit list, but we can’t. Unfortunately, we found this to be a less than pleasant experience, with a staff member that seemed very uninterested in working with us, from telling us to “go read the descriptions on the wine racks” that were positioned throughout the tasting room to us having to ask him to pour our next taste for all four wines. We tried to engage a few times by asking about the wines, but were met with mostly short answers or silence.

 2016 Sturgis Merlot
As we visit local wineries, we try to target the wines made with locally grown grapes or fruit. During our visit here, we tasted four different wines including a South Dakota-grown Marquette and the Rushmore White made from local Edelweiss grapes. The best of the four that we tasted was labeled as a 2016 Merlot, which is a bit of mystery to us, since it’s too early in the year to have a bottled 2016 wine- perhaps it was a 2015 with an incorrect vintage on the label? Either way, it was not produced using local fruit, but was suggested when we asked which wine was the best. A nice ruby red color, the wine had candied aromas of what we think may be sorbate. The palate was more agreeable, having good balance, light tannins, and medium finish with red fruit and cherry flavors. Perhaps we would have found the wines that we tasted more pleasant if our staff interaction and overall experience had been more positive; but as much as we hate to not give glowing reviews of every winery visit, we feel that this one isn’t worth a stop.