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Adding Value in North Dakota

Posted 3/22/16 (Tue)

Bismarck, N.D.—When most U.S. residents think of North Dakota, visions of waving fields of wheat come to mind, not rows of grapevines. That’s not surprising, as the grape and wine industry is basically in its infancy in the state. When Pointe of View Winery in Burlington, N.D., opened in 2002, it was the first commercial winery in North Dakota to open since Prohibition, and that event had added significance because with its opening, the United States had at least one commercial winery in every state in the union.

Now the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC), a program run by the N.D. Department of Commerce, is helping to move the state wine industry to a new level by awarding grants to companies that add value to one of the state’s raw agricultural products—in this case, grapes. APUC looks for projects that will develop new and expanded uses of North Dakota’s agricultural products, including grapes, and thereby create jobs and economic growth for the state. 

In 2015, APUC made two grants under the category of marketing and utilization, one to Fluffy Fields Vineyard in Dickinson, N.D., and another to Chateau Moravia in Bismarck. Deb Kinzel, who owns Fluffy Fields Vineyard with her husband Kevin, told Wines & Vines that they are using the grant money, which totaled $60,952.50, to create a business plan, conduct a winery feasibility study and develop a marketing plan including a logo and a website. In addition, the funding allowed the couple to attend the cold-climate conference VitiNord in Nebraska in November, and to extend their knowledge by visiting wineries in nearby states. “It has been such a blessing for us,” she said. “We’ve been able to do things we couldn’t have done to this extent without it. We’re now getting ready to apply for another grant.”

Kinzel explained that the grant is actually a matching funds program, and they had to put up $20,000 in order to be eligible for the monies they received. For the APUC program, the categories of marketing, utilization and basic and applied research have a 3:1 matching fund ratio, but there is no maximum amount that an applicant can request. Farm diversification and nature-based agri-tourism are both at a 3:1 matching fund ratio with a maximum level of $25,000, while technical assistance has a maximum of $25,000 and a 2:1 ratio. The agricultural prototype development and technology category also has a maximum of $25,000 with a 1:1 ratio. 

Fluffy Fields Vineyard started as a backyard grapegrowing project in 2009. The Kinzels planted 600 vines including Petite Pearl, Frontenac Gris, Prairie Star and Brianna and named the vineyard for its location. According to Kinzel, the wheat fields surrounding the property look fluffy when the wind blows, hence the name. The vineyard has expanded, and Crimson Pearl vines (Tom Plocher’snewly named grape variety in Minnesota) have been ordered for planting in spring 2017. A winery building with an events room, commercial kitchen and tasting room is now under construction, and Kinzel hopes it will be open by May 2016. 

Tereza Kozubikova and Miroslv Sumbera, owners of Chateau Moravia Vineyard and Nursery, received a grant of $119,500 in early December to start North Dakota’s first nursery for cold-hardy grapevines. The couple, who came from the Moravia wine region in the Czech Republic, first planted 6 acres of cold climate grapes in 2007. Sumbera told Wines & Vines that most of the funds will go to expanding their vineyard and establishing the nursery. “I’d like to plant 20,000 vines and sell vines to growers in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota—anyone who wants cold-climate grapes. I want to show people how to grow grapes, even here in North Dakota. Then, after we plant 20,000 vines, in two or three years we might start a winery.” The grant funds will also be used for a feasibility study, business and marketing plans, and to extend the trellis and irrigation systems needed for the vineyard and proposed nursery.

According to Wines Vines Analytics, North Dakota is home to 12 wineries, with more in the planning stages. While many of the wines in the state are made from fruits other than grapes, berries and honey, new vineyards are now being planted based on the success of grape breeders in developing new cold-hardy wine grape varieties that can survive the brutally cold winters and still make good wine the following season.


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