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In S. Dakota, winery industry has developed since state’s 1996 farm winery law was passed

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AP Photos SDDL101-103

By DIRK LAMMERS

Associated Press Writer

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VOLGA, S.D. (AP) — Jim and Nancy Schade opened their winery, Schade Vineyard, with the goal of bringing a touch of Napa Valley to the South Dakota prairie.

Schade was the third vineyard set up in the state after the Legislature(passed a 1996 law allowing farm wineries. South Dakota’s burgeoning industry is now a dozen wineries strong, and produced 39,785 gallons in 2006.

Visitors to Schade Vineyard can tour the property, take in some Midwest hospitality and sample an array of potent potables made from locally grown grapes, rhubarb, plums, buffaloberries and chokecherries.

"I think the rhubarb wine is most unique to South Dakota," Nancy Schade said.

The Schades, who bottled their first batch in 2000, produced 3,000 cases last year using several varieties of grapes grown on their 2-acre vineyard and grapes and other fruits bought from a dozen or so area growers.

"All of our grapes and fruit are grown within 200 miles of our vineyard," Nancy Schade said.

While vineyards in California and Oregon have had more than a century to perfect growing their grape types, varieties hardy enough to survive South Dakota winters are the result of recent breeding, said Rhoda Burrows, an Extension horticultural specialist at South Dakota State University.

"Instead of having hundreds of years of experience in knowing how to grow this vine, we may have 10 years or five years," she said. "So we’re still learning about the cultivars themselves and how best to grow them."

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South Dakota’s industry is mostly a niche market, but wines produced by the state’s two largest wineries — Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City and Valiant Vineyards in Vermillion — have been competitive internationally, Burrows said.

In a state more famous for corn and soybeans, about 70 acres of grapes are growing, but that number could soon increase. Nearly 140 people showed up for beginning grape-growing workshops offered this spring, Burrows said.

South Dakota wineries can sell their products at the vineyards and through retailers, but they may not ship bottles within the state. They may ship to most surrounding areas, but the laws and licensing fees vary state-to-state.

The Schades have opted to bottle and label by hand rather than investing immediately in high-priced equipment. It’s important to keep costs down, since rural Midwesterners are not accustomed to paying the same prices customers pay in Napa Valley, they said.

"We have to be very aware of that," Nancy Schade said.

For Don South and many other South Dakota growers, winemaking is a hobby that blossomed into a side business. He has been making wine since 1998 and began planting his own grape vines in 2000.

South, of Renner, opened Strawbale Winery late last year, constructing a building out of straw bales covered with stucco. Strawbale has since gained a loyal following, producing sweeter dessert-type wines such as a black currant wine, strawberry apple wine and a honey wine, South said.

South and his fellow winemakers network through the South Dakota Specialty Producers Association, but they are branching off into the South Dakota Wine Growers Association to create new markets and build the industry.

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Unlike in other industries, winemakers welcome new entrants, South said.

"Another winery is not a competitor, because one and one basically makes three in this business," he said. "You need wineries about every 30 miles apart so you can get a viable wine trail going."

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