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October is a great month to celebrate local wines

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

Thirty-two years ago when I arrived in North Dakota to work as an extension specialist for NDSU, ND's wine industry was virtually nonexistent; the first winery did not open until 2002, when Pointe of View opened in the Bismarck area.

Nowadays, there are wineries across the state, offering fruit-based wines as well as wines made from known winter hardy varieties developed by Elmer Swenson and University of Minnesota researchers.

To paraphrase Rod and Sue Bollinger of Bear Creek winery and other intrepid pioneers who entered into unchartered territory where no one dared to tread, great strides have been made over the past 15 plus years.

Nowadays, wine country is literally everywhere, and for those with a little curiosity, and a yen for adventure and discovery, explore what your state and surrounding regions have to offer as far as wineries go.

In the Dakotas, cold-hardy grapes contributed $16.8 million in economic activity to the economies of North and South Dakota in 2011. The industry was responsible for the creation of 460 jobs and $5.6 million in labor income.

Cold-hardiness is not the only concern for wine grape growers and wineries. Like any farming operation, they are concerned with the typical array of pests, diseases and weeds. Dakota vineyard operators are more concerned about government policies and regulations than their counterparts in other states.

Drinking local wines ties in with eating locally produced food: North Dakota beef, wheat, barley, honey and other agricultural crops all come together. Not insignificant is the attraction of tourism some of these venues have that bring in outside money to the market. (North Dakota has a winery listing in the tourism guide online at www.ndtourism.com/listing/wineries.)

Great wines are produced in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, many with familiar names such as riesling, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, to name just a few. Folks visiting our local/regional wineries should not expect to find those being produced in our environment.

The challenge lies in getting people to accept "our wines" for what they are, which has been aptly touted by Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Minnesota. They produce more than 18 Minnesota wines and have events almost perpetually going on throughout the season: grape stomps, Saturday Murder Mystery Dinner and more.

Get out and see what is local.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at tuftruck1@gmail.com.

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