HILL CITY, S.D. — At the end of two days of wine judging, Prairie Berry Winery’s sweet Concord, Calamity Jane, was one of just 29 wines to win the prestigious Jefferson Cup. The Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition is open to wineries by invitation only. This year’s competition included 700 wines from 23 states. Six Prairie Berry wines were invited, and their 2011 Frontenac Gris, a South Dakota-grown white grape wine, was also a nominee for the Jefferson Cup. Four other Prairie Berry wines received Medals of American Merit.
“We had a representation of the best of what every quality wine producing region in the country is offering right now,” said Doug Frost, Jefferson Cup Invitational founder. “While many competitions insist upon selecting a pre-ordained number of sweepstakes winners, our judges are allowed to find the top wines, whether there are only one, two or three, or even no winners in some categories.”
Sandi Vojta, Prairie Berry’s winemaker, said, “It was an absolute huge honor not only to be a South Dakota winery invited to participate in the Jefferson Cup Wine Invitational, but also be awarded a Jefferson Cup for Calamity Jane and have Frontenac Gris chosen as a Jefferson Cup Nominee. We are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to compete with top notch wineries from across the United States.”
These six awards bring Prairie Berry’s total medal count to 719 for the last 11 years. In wine competitions the wines are judged on standard criteria by certified judges. Judges are looking for balance in the acidity of the wine, as well as how well the wine represents the fruit it is made from.
Prairie Berry Winery is located near Hill City, S.D., but its roots are in the plains, where Vojta’s great-great-grandmother homesteaded in 1876 and made wine from the “prairie berries” that grew nearby. Prairie Berry is family-owned and all their wines are made in the Hill City winery. Many of the fruits that go into the wines are hand-picked in South Dakota.
Several senses–well, all of them really–come into play when you’re tasting wine. Okay, so you don’t actually taste with your ears, but the sound of the wine hitting the glass, the clink of a glass during a toast–these are part of the experience. The color and clarity of the wine are important and the temperature of the wine can make a difference. So, there are three of the five senses that you’ve used before you’ve even tasted the wine. But the big two are taste and smell.
The condition of your mouth can greatly affect how you taste wine. If you’ve eaten cheese, spicy foods or nearly anything else with a moderately strong flavor (including gum), there’s a possibility it will skew your perception of the taste of the wine. Fats and oils can coat the tongue, rendering your tastebuds ineffective at detecting the subtle flavor nuances that are so enjoyable in a glass of wine. Get around this by avoiding food until after the tasting or eating a few mild crackers or a piece of bread between the food and the wine. In our tasting room we encourage guests to have a few oyster crackers before switching wines, and also suggest they wait until after the tasting to have lunch. Rinsing your mouth with plain water can also help. Of course, the right food paired with the right wine can bring out the best of both elements, but if you’re tasting wine just to taste the wine, it’s best for the wine to be solo.
And now, the nose. Since a great deal of tasting is actually smelling, keeping your nose in tip-top shape is as important as cleaning your mouth. But cleaning your nose? Yeah. Gross. We’ll assume you know how to clean your nose. We won’t go there. But keep in mind that your nose’s ability to pick up the intricacies of a wine bouquet can be hampered by distracting aromas. If you know you are going to be tasting wine, skip the perfume and move away from the man with the aftershave aura. Other scents, like coffee and barbecue smoke, can be equally effective at keeping your nose from focusing on the wine. In some cases, if there’s nothing you can do about a strong aroma, you may want to postpone your tasting and try again sometime when you can focus on the wine.
The major growing regions around the world are pretty popular: California, Australia and Italy, for example. Try a wine that pushes those boundaries a bit. Riesling from Alsace is bright and crisp, perfect for early fall sipping. The Finger Lakes region of New York is growing into a powerhouse region for Eiswein and other dense, perfumed dessert wines. Right here in South Dakota, hybrid grapes are sticking through our tough winters to create everything from delicate whites to dense port-style reds. It doesn’t have to be a new growing area to be new to you!
Now that temperatures have actually hit summer levels, your thirsty thoughts may be turning toward icy drinks. (Read: Not wine.)
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• Juice of 1 large orange
• Juice of 1 large lemon
• 1 large orange, sliced thin crosswise
• 1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
• 2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
• 1 cup (8 fl. oz) club soda
Combine all the ingredients except the club soda in a large punch bowl or serving pitcher. Mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz. Ladle into cups with ice cubes. (Yes, you will be putting ice cubes in wine. RED wine. It’s really okay, just relax!)
- 1 bottle Lawrence Elk black currant wine
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/8 cup simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water heated until sugar dissolves)
- Sliced limes, lemons and oranges
It appears that summer is here with a vengeance. One of the best witticisms I’ve seen regarding the recent heat wave is, “Satan called. He wants his weather back.”
“What’s for supper?”
The phrase has become the bane of my existence, especially in the summer. I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t feel like eating something that’s been cooked. The solution? Salad.
Pasta salad (yes, there is some cooking involved). Tossed salad. Steak salad. Chicken salad. Seafood salad. The term “salad” is so vague it can refer to anything from vegetables to gelatin. But generally, salads are cold, crisp and crunchy. Wines paired with salad should be the same-well, almost the same. Crunchy wine?
Pairing a wine with a salad can be tricky. Most salads are dressed with an acidic dressing, so a wine needs to complement that, not get bulldozed by it.
For those salads, you’ll want to choose a wine with a fairly high acid level. Dry rosés are pretty safe bets for most salads, like a romaine and arugula salad tossed with herb-marinated grilled chicken. Top it with grilled salmon or lemon shrimp and you’re still safe with a dry rosé. One dry rosé to check out that is fairly inexpensive and widely available in South Dakota is LaVielle Ferme. All the wines from this French winery are great dry, summer wines. If you’re looking for a local wine, try Prairie Berry’s Pink Slip or Crab Apple.
If you switch to steak to top your greens you’ll want to stick with conventional wisdom and serve it with a red wine. Italian wines are good served with steak salad because they are created to stand up to hearty, acidic tomato sauces and work well with both the beefy flavor and the high acid of the dressing.
If you go lighter and leave off the meat, try pairing a tossed salad with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
Generally, steer clear of sweet wines with salads. And pick a wine you can chill. It is summer, after all.
A summer evening isn’t complete without the smell of barbecue smoke in the air. When it’s time to break out the charcoal and marinate that special cut of meat or skewer the vegetables, think beyond beverages in boxes and allow a bottle of wine to turn that regular backyard barbecue into a special occasion. But before you venture out onto the patio, nervously clutching the grill tongs and a bottle of wine, let’s set a few ground rules.
If you can’t decide whether to go with red or white, split the difference and pick a blush, or rosé. These wines, with their flavors of red fruits with notes of tea, citrus or even watermelon, may be just the summer sippers you’re looking for.
What’s in the bottle? Usually, wine. But even more simply, there’s glass in the bottle. And in the bottles we use at Prairie Berry, there’s a lot of thought, consideration and research.
At Prairie Berry one of our values is sustainability. We view ourselves as stewards of the environment. Our building and grounds were designed with that in mind and now this commitment to sustainability and environmental friendliness extends even to our bottles.
We have started using the ECO Series™ sold by Caliber WinePak and manufactured by Saint-Gobain Containers because they fit with our values.
These bottles are slightly smaller than standard wine bottles, so use less glass, but hold the same amount of wine. Magic! They require less energy to manufacture. Because the bottles are smaller, the cases can be smaller. Less cardboard. More cases will fit on a truck. Less fuel. And they are made in plants in Seattle, Wash., and Madera, Calif. Yeah, that’s in the U.S.A.
You probably couldn’t tell these bottles from the standard ones if you put them in a line-up. They look very similar and are manufactured with both cork and Stelvin closure options. As for durability, well, when we were bottling one of our latest wines in the ECO bottles, one of our staff (who shall remain nameless), dropped an empty bottle on the concrete floor. Steeling ourselves for the crash and dash for the broom, we were impressed to see it bounce. It was recovered without a chip.
So, you may have already bought Prairie Berry wine in ECO bottles and didn’t know it. We’re just telling you because we hope you, like us, want to do what you can to help the environment bounce, not break.
HILL CITY, S.D. — The judges in San Francisco seem to like what South Dakota does with raspberries and honey. Prairie Berry Winery’s Raspberry Honeywine was among 80 Best of Class winners in the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. About 5,500 wines were entered in the competition. Since Raspberry Honeywine’s competition debut in 2003 it has garnered nearly 40 medals.
Sturgis Honey, a family-owned business near Sturgis, S.D. produces the honey, which makes up about 60 percent of Raspberry Honeywine. “The honey traveled less than 60 miles from the collection facility to the winery,” said Bob Weyrich, Prairie Berry’s grower relationships manager. The winery uses as many South Dakota products as possible in their wines, including hand-picked native fruits like buffaloberries, chokecherries, river grapes and wild plums. Prairie Berry partners with Lewis & Clark Vineyard, near Yankton, S.D. for their South Dakota-grown grapes.
Four wines made from those South Dakota-grown grapes earned medals in San Francisco. Port-style Frontenac 2011 and semi-dry white wine Frontenac Gris 2011 each brought home a gold medal. Semi-dry white wines St. Pepin 2011 and Brianna 2011 earned silver medals.
All of Prairie Berry’s wines are produced, start to finish, in their winery near Hill City, S.D.
“It is awesome to have South Dakota wine recognized at this level,” said Sandi Vojta, Prairie Berry’s winemaker. “We have amazing partners in Sturgis Honey and Lewis & Clark Vineyard that work really hard to give us high-quality products to start with.”
In their 10 years in the commercial wine business, Prairie Berry has won 617 awards for nearly 50 different wines. For more than a century before commercial wineries were legal in South Dakota, the Vojta family produced wines from the fruit of the prairie, having brought those skills to the Dakotas from Czechoslovakia in 1876. A family tradition that started with wild chokecherries and homemade oak barrels has grown into one of the largest and most acclaimed wineries in the Midwest.
“I try to make wine people like to drink,” Vojta said. “It’s always an honor to have those efforts recognized by the judges, but nothing compares to hearing from someone who just loves our wine.”
HILL CITY, S.D.–Prairie Berry Winery took home nearly 10 percent of the gold medals at the American Wine Society’s Commercial Wine Competition. The competition, which took place in Rochester, N.Y., attracted 540 submissions from around the country. Twenty-one gold medals were awarded and Prairie Berry’s Raspberry Honeywine and dry Phat Hogg Red earned two of those.
“These judges are really well-versed in wines and what to look for,” Sandi Vojta, the winemaker for Prairie Berry, a family-owned winery near Hill City, S.D. “To be two of only 21 wines to win gold at this competition is a huge honor,” Vojta said.
What made the honor even better was that the co-chair of the competition, Harvey Reissig, called to personally congratulate Vojta on thewinery’s showing.
The winery entered 10 wines in the competition, and all 10 brought home medals.
“It’s really an honor because I know these people have really discerning and educated palates,” Vojta said.
The American Wine Society has been around for nearly 45 years and is the oldest and largest consumer-based wine education organization in North America.
This year Prairie Berry has brought home nearly 100 awards for 22 of their wines, all of which are made at the winery in South Dakota. Prairie Berry Winery’s medal count for the 10 years they’ve been making wine commercially is just over 600.
The Vojta family was making wine long before they gave any thought to awards. Vojta’s great-great-grandmother, Anna Pesa Vojta immigrated to central South Dakota in 1876 and brought along her family’s tradition of winemaking. Five generations later, Vojta is still making wines from the “prairie berries” of the Plains.