Posted 3/22/16 (Tue)
More than a decade later, Fluffy Fields Vineyard -- Dickinson’s first and only federally licensed commercial winery -- could soon give visitors a taste of homegrown North Dakota wine.
The winery is a brainchild of Dickinson couple Kevin and Deb Kinzel and is being constructed on their property near Sundance Coves, east of the city, with hopes of opening for business sometime in the late spring.
Deb Kinzel said her family’s foray into serious winemaking began with a glass carboy -- a jug used for fermenting small batches of wine -- given to her husband.
The family had already planted some grapes as part of their garden and had dabbled in fermentation, but Deb said that first carboy started a series of expansions that rapidly grew into a building.
“One carboy led to 50 carboys which went to bigger tanks to this,” Deb said, gesturing to the winery around her. “We had one grapevine at first. Then we bought 10, and the next year he ordered 600 -- and next year we’re getting 1,000, which we’re planting north of town.”
As the Kinzels delved deeper into their hobby, they invited friends and visitors to the farmers’ market they hosted on their property to taste the wines they were creating.
Those initial tastings went well enough for the couple to consider selling their wares -- which wasn’t possible to do legally without extensive permitting and official winery status.
Deb said the options were simple.
“Either I was going to be a bootlegger and end up in jail, or we were going to start a winery,” she said with a laugh.
Kevin said the winery is set up with four 500-gallon fermenters and will soon have a chiller to control the temperature of the fermentation process.
As soon as that piece of machinery is installed, he said, “we’re ready to go.”
Kevin said he’s stocked with enough fruit and grape juice -- much of the latter brought in from growers in Iowa, to begin with -- to make about 3,000 to 3,500 gallons of wine in the first run.
At five bottles per gallon, the winery could be flowing with as many as 17,500 bottles by the time it gets through its first season of fermentation.
Kevin said the process of making a large amount of wine is basically the same as a small batch, but admitted with a laugh that the undertaking was “a little scary.”
Despite that, Kevin, who has worked at Winn Construction for the past 26 years, said he enjoys driving around on a tractor through the grapes more than anything.
“Seeing the grapes on the vine -- between doing that and walking into the building -- it’s still enough to make me step back and say, ‘Wow,’ sometimes,” he said.
Moving forward, the Kinzels hope to make the business a family affair both in its staffing and clientele.
Deb plans to open the indoor and outdoor spaces at the winery for weddings, bridal and baby showers, and other larger gatherings in addition to regular tastings and open hours.
Joining the Kinzels in running Fluffy Fields are the couple’s son, Kody and their daughter and son-in-law, Krista and Kenny Jessop.
The Jessops will work on the office end of the winery and Kody, 25, and will serve as Fluffy Fields’ vinter, or wine maker, and oversee production.
Kody said he studied the craft through online courses and spent two months working at Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery in Carroll, Iowa, to prepare himself for the role.
So far, he said the experience, while unexpected, has been a good one.
“My parents kind of woke up and said they wanted to grow grapes,” Kody said with a laugh. “ … At first I was a little leery. I’m not a gardener. But just going to school and learning about the process of making wine and the science of it, it’s actually really fun.”
Kody said North Dakota’s wine-producing culture is “still young,” and while breeding programs from North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota have produced some varieties of grape that can survive the region’s harsh winters, there’s still work to be done to develop and promote cold-climate viticulture, or grape production.
At the same time, he said he saw his parents’ endeavor as well-positioned in a larger industry.
“It’s going to help Dickinson get on the map a little more,” Kody said of the winery. “And it’ll be in a good place when it gets bigger, and more wineries come up here when they find out they can grow grapes and make good fruit wines in a colder climate.”