North Dakota wine industry challenged by drought

Local News

The oldest winery in North Dakota had to cancel its annual Grape Harvest for the first time in nearly 15 years because of the drought — and researchers at the Extension Center also experienced a lower yield.

Pointe of View Winery has been open for nearly 20 years and has been putting on a Grape Harvest Festival for almost 15.

This year they produced, 120 pounds of grapes compared to the 2,500 to 5,000 pounds that are normally harvested.

The grapes were also smaller and instead of making wine, owners sold them at the farmers market instead.

Owner Jeff Peterson said they still will be making their other wines using products from other local farmers and independent producers, even though they can’t make their signature wine.

“Though we might on average sell anywhere from nine to 12 varieties, and that being just one variety, depending on the year and how good a growing season, our loss is probably anywhere from 9,000-15,000,” said Peterson.

The winery was not the only place that experienced a lower harvest.

The North Central Research Extension Center has a vineyard and several things lead to a low yield there as well.

Ag Research Technician Chris Asmundson said there was winter damage to the vines, high temperatures when the plants started to flower and less pollination.

“Clusters were smaller and then we had the drought, which meant berries smaller and the plants had to struggle. And we ended up with probably 60% volume what we would normally see,” said Asmundson.

The project to develop a wine grape in North Dakota started in 2013.

The naturally growing wild grape found here is called Vitis Riparia and it’s too high in sugar and acid to make wine.

Each vine is experimental. Researchers cross the wild grape with normal wine grapes to get a grape that will do well in North Dakota, have time to ripen and taste good as a wine.

Asmundson said the research is important because more people are interested in the wine and tourism industry and North Dakota has the potential.

“If we can get plants out there that are reliable and make good wine, there’s going to be more interest in that program and there’s gonna be a lot more people that take it on and it’ll be nice to see,” said Asmundson.

Peterson said they’ve also been doing small-scale experimental research for the last 12 years, crossing native wild grapes with other varieties from other places.

“We do some experimental research breeding work here but, of course, it’s very small scale. But for the most part, this is the first time it’s been this bad for us in 20 years so we’re hoping this is something that’s not going to continue,” said Peterson.

Peterson only has one wish to save his vines.

“Bring rain. At least this fall, bring lots of snow and spring rain,” said Peterson.

The winery is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 to 6 and from noon to 5 five on Sundays.

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