In: Heritage, Prairie Berry, Wine

Comments Off on Earth-Friendly Wine (Part 2)

Last week we told about how we make wine as environmentally-friendly as we can. Here’s how we carry that commitment throughout the rest of our business.

Winery Tasting Room & Kitchen

  • The winery uses a geothermal system for heating and cooling.
  • Exhaust air goes through an energy recovery heat exchanger.
  • The heat from the Kitchen heats the rest of the winery in the winter.
  • We recycle plastic, glass, aluminum, newspaper, office paper and magazines.
  • We offer only fresh water and glasses in the tasting room–no bottled water.
  • All the wine bottles from our tasting room go into the recycling bin, to be turned into more Ecobottles.
  • Our to-go containers are made from recycled paper, not Styrofoam.
  • Our lights are controlled by motion sensors, so we’re lighting only the areas that need to be lit.
  • Our tasting room is lit by LED bulbs, which are 90 percent more efficient than the incandescent bulbs they replaced.  Not only do they use 90 percent less electricity, they produce 90 percent less heat that the cooling system has to remove.  (These are kinder to our staff, too– The incandescent bulbs had to be replaced every six months, by our staff on a tall ladder. LEDs will last for six years, so our staff doesn’t have as many opportunities to fall off a ladder.)
  • Much of the produce we use in our Kitchen travels just 12 miles, from a family-owned greenhouse near Keystone.
  • Many of the items we offer for sale in the tasting room are made by local artisans and crafters–less fossil fuel consumed for transportation.
  • We use mostly native plants in our landscaping. These are adapted to our climate and thrive with little supplemental water and no additional fertilizer.
  • All the rock in our landscaping is sourced within 10 miles of the winery.
  • The winery building is made mostly of metal, with between 30 percent and 80 percent recycled content. It is infinitely recyclable.
  • A high insulation value throughout the winery means we require less energy for heating and cooling.


  • We encourage employees to carpool.
  • We use electronic communications whenever possible, including fax-to-email.
  • Our employees volunteer to pick up trash along a stretch of highway twice a year.
  • We offer sustainability training to our employees.

Just like our ancestors, we want to use the earth responsibly, and leave it better for those who come next.


In: Heritage, Prairie Berry, Wine

Comments Off on Earth-Friendly Wine (Part 1)

For homesteaders like the Vojta family, every day was Earth Day. Life was about conserving. They didn’t waste water that they had to haul in buckets. They ate the food that grew where they lived. And they made wine from what was at hand.

At Prairie Berry, we’ve kept those principles of our great-great-grandparents.

As a winery, we’re fundamentally earth-based. From the vines to the wines, we are aware that we don’t own our chunk of earth–we’re privileged to be able to use it for a while.

When we built the winery one of our goals was to make it as earth-friendly as possible. Here are some examples of how we’ve done that.


  • The industry standard for water used to produce a case of wine, start to finish, is seven to eight gallons. We use three.
  • Fermenting wine produces heat, which we use to heat other parts of the winery.
  • We make many of our wines from native fruit, which grows wild nearby, with no irrigation or fertilizer required. We harvest responsibly and sustainably (by hand) so we impact the environment as little as possible.
  • The wine production area uses very little heat in the winter and utilizes nighttime ventilation for cooling.
  • The waste from winemaking–grape skins, apricot pits, chokecherry seeds–all go to the compost pile, not the landfill.
  • Our wine goes into Ecobottles, which are made in the U.S.A., and use less glass than traditional bottles, cutting down on the weight, space and resources needed to transport them. They are made of nearly 66% recycled glass.

Check out our blog next week for all the ways the tasting room, Kitchen and administration of Prairie Berry take care of the earth .






In: Prairie Berry, Wine

Comments Off on A hole full of wine?

After months of digging a hole, we’re filling it back in. The important part is what we’re filling it with. You could say we’re filling it with wine.

For the last several months, enormous construction equipment has been chiseling its way through the rock behind the winery, clearing a space for our third production expansion in five years. The expansion will allow more room for more wine tanks and barrels, which means more wine!
Right now our oak-aged wine production is limited by the small space we have to store wine barrels. That means we can’t make as much oaked wine as we’d like. And we don’t have the space to experiment with different types of oak and lengths of aging. With the new expansion that’s all going to be an unoaked memory.
We’re also putting in more tanks, which will allow us to keep in stock more of your favorite wines, and experiment with some new ones. We’re excited about that.
Yesterday we started pouring concrete for the footings, which means we’re going to start seeing some changes happen pretty quickly. The addition won’t be all that noticeable from the front of the winery, but we think you’ll like what we do with the place.

Looking out onto South Dakota’s prairie often gives me pause and I think about the plainswomen who settled America’s prairieland over one hundred and forty years ago. How these women ever survived life without electricity, ready- made shelter, stores to buy food, running water, transportation and other comforts that we now think of as intrinsic to life, fills me with awe. Yet survive these women did, leaving the legacies of their lives to their daughters and granddaughters.

This month, as we celebrated Women’s History Month, I went back to the stories told by  my grandmother, Lorine Yeager, and found communion with a woman of the prairie, my great- great-grandmother, Magdelina Pieth Denzer.

In 1888, Magdelina Pieth emigrated from Switzerland.  She worked as a housemaid in Chicago, and in 1897 married Henry Denzer. They lived in Winona, Minnesota.  In 1918, Henry talked Magdalena into moving west and homesteading in Montana. She left the comforts of her Minnesota home, including her apple and plum trees, berries and bees, to settle in Montana.

Lorine wrote of Magdelina in her autobiography:

This part of her life was rough, as the rusty water turned her beautiful linens red, the wind seemed to blow constantly making everything full of dust, and with no conveniences.

The dry, barren prairie was no match for her lovely yard and flowers in Minnesota. There was no “herd” law in Montana at the time so the neighbor’s cattle destroyed much of their crop and garden.

Magedelina’s story is like many other stories of women who settled the prairie. These women found ways to make good out of their new lives. Whatever creature comforts they lacked, they made up with a legacy of grit and love. From my grandmother’s writing on Magdelina:

Finally, [her husband] Henry built her a large, lovely home just north of Conrad, and there she raised her family. She did what she could to help the few neighbors she had, as she was always present when someone was ill or needed help. Medical help was far away so she delivered babies and helped in all kinds of sicknesses…Magdalena was a very quiet woman, which I felt was due to the loneliness she felt for her family in Switzerland…I helped her much with household tasks such as making butter, packing eggs, making soap and cleaning her beautiful black and chrome wood stove….To know Grandma Denzer was to love her. Grandma Denzer was a righteous person and was always a wonderful neighbor to everyone. She delivered many babies and always helped when there was anyone ill in the neighborhood.

In days gone by, and even today, South Dakota has been homeplace to the stories of many such great women. I think of Anna Pesa Vojta, great-great-grandmother of Prairie Berry Winery’s winemaker, Sandi Vojta. You can see her story sketched out on a timeline here:

South Dakota is still home to such great women, Jenn Zeller,  The South Dakota Cowgirl. Jenn’s photographs, on display at Prairie Berry starting March 29, will take you on a journey through life on a South Dakota ranch today, through her own eyes as rancher and photographer.

Jenn keeps a blog:,  and a recent post seemed destined to be part of a story that one hundred years from now, a member of Jenn’s kin will look back at, proud of the great woman she was and in awe of the strength, stamina and compassion with which she lives her life. Here’s an excerpt from her blog post, “A Skipped Confession”:

Still to do this week: fold and put away all the laundry, order more graduation announcements, take photos of some horses for sale, write a blog post, finish and order a marketing piece, put together a package for the Cheyenne River Youth Project, Bangs vaccinate heifers, make brownies and Green Chili Bacon Stuffed Croissants for our “dinner” party at the ranch tonight, I’d like to ride, workout, then maybe take a deep breath.

Please join us in a community celebration of The South Dakota Cowgirl’s exhibit with an opening reception this Friday, March 29, from 3 – 5 p.m. Take the opportunity to bring a young person with you. In sharing the stories of our lives, our neighbors, our families, and our country, we may find that true grit and a deep sense of compassion is not so hidden, and even lives on in ourselves today. The exhibit will be on display through April 26.


Pumpkin Bog 2012Your assignment: Create a piece of art that will grace the label of Pumpkin Bog, our pumpkin/cranberry wine.

Condition: It cannot feature pumpkin, cranberries, wine bottles or wine glasses. And it cannot look like a wine label (no wine name, no logo)


Here are the rest of the guidelines:

Prairie Berry Winery, Hill City, SD, is calling on South Dakota artists to lend their talents for the label of the next release of Pumpkin Bog, their cranberry-pumpkin wine. This wine will be released Oct. 1, 2013 and will be featured during a month-long celebration, called Pumpkin Bog Fest, at Prairie Berry Winery.

Prairie Berry Winery is seeking original artwork to be used on the wine label and possibly other items and promotions.

Criteria and Rights

  • Work must be submitted in a frame with hanging brackets.
  • Artwork that is designed to look like a wine label will be disqualified. Please don’t add a logo, wine name, etc.
  • Artwork may NOT include pumpkins, cranberries, wine bottles or wine glasses. Any artwork that includes one or any of these elements will be disqualified.
  • Art may be submitted in any size, but will be reproduced at approximately 2 ½ x 3 5/8 inches, with the logo under the artwork.
  • An alternate size is 2 ½ x 4 7/8 inches, but that would include the Prairie Berry logo being placed across the artwork, usually at the bottom.
  • Artist retains copyright, but gives Prairie Berry permission to use the artwork as they deem necessary, changing the form of the artwork as required by the design of the label, while maintaining the integrity of the artwork.
  • The artist will have the opportunity to view any design featuring their artwork before it is published.
  • Entries must be received by Friday, April 26, 2013.


  • All entries will be displayed at Prairie Berry Winery May 11, 2013 during Art Extravaganza in Hill City. The winner will be announced the following week on Prairie Berry’s Facebook page.
  • Visitors to Prairie Berry during Art Extravaganza may vote on the artwork, with the final artwork selection being made by Prairie Berry staff and a panel of judges.

The winning artist will:

  • Have their biography and a link to their website featured on
  • Have access to a high-resolution digital scan of the original artwork.
  • Retain ownership of the original artwork and may use it as they wish.
  • Receive two cases of Pumpkin Bog wine (a $400 retail value) and a 5 percent discount on any non-wine merchandise featuring their artwork.
  • Have the opportunity to display and sell their artwork (the winning artwork and other pieces) at Prairie Berry during Pumpkin Bog Fest, Oct. 1-31, 2013.
  • Be encouraged to take part in bottle signings and print signings at Prairie Berry during Pumpkin Bog Fest.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah King at 605.574.3898 or via email at

Prairie Berry Winery is excited to utilize the amazing talent in the region and looks forward to receiving entries! Thank you!

Please send or drop off entries to:
Sarah King
Prairie Berry Winery
23837 Hwy 385, PO Box 8
Hill City, SD 57745

If you’re reading this it means we’ve successfully launched our new website! Thank you for visiting and caring enough about Prairie Berry to read what we post on our blog.

After several years, we decided it was time to update our web presence. We wanted it to reflect the things we care about the most–customer service, our South Dakota roots, fantastic food and events, and amazing wine!

We hope you make time to visit our heritage page and see how Prairie Berry has grown since 1876. Stop by and pick up a few new recipes from the Kitchen, our restaurant. Find food pairings for your favorite wine. See where we get the thousands of gallons of honey for Raspberry Honeywine. Find out who is playing at our Summer Music Series. Plan the perfect bachelorette party with the help of our party planners.

Whatever you love, or want to know, about Prairie Berry, we hope you find it here. If you don’t, please let us know. We always love to hear from our friends and we want to make sure the information you care about is easy to find.

Feel free to connect with us via Facebook, Twitter or call us at 877.226.9453 to talk to a real person (during business hours–we have to sleep too).




In: News, Prairie Berry

Comments Off on Robert Whitley: American Wine

American Wine


Creators Syndicate

American Wine, a comprehensive look at the history and state of wine in America co-authored by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson and wine journalist Linda Murphy, is scheduled to be released February 1. It is available on pre-order now ($45) at Amazon. It should be an eye-opener.

Although the focus promises to be on the most important wine-growing regions in the nation, i.e., California, Washington and Oregon, the most important detail is the revelation that good wine is made throughout America, often in places the average American would consider improbable turf for winemaking.

The subject is near and dear, for I have become a convert to the exciting viticultural possibilities in, say, South Dakota. I won’t pretend that it is a budding Napa Valley waiting to be discovered, but I do know there is a winery, Prairie Berry in Hill City, SD., that has consistently racked up awards at the San Diego International Wine Competition.

The wines of Prairie Berry are made from grapes, such as Frontenac Gris and Vidal Blanc, that may not be familiar to the average person, but at Prairie Berry they are transformed into delicious, well-balanced wines that impress even grizzled wine judges with more experience, and perhaps a small bias, toward more traditional grape varieties.

Even more startling than the recent success of Prairie Berry was the accomplishment last year of a winery from Wisconsin, Wollersheim, which racked up four platinum awards and was named Winery of the Year at the San Diego International. Wollersheim is located in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, where it, too, features hybrid grape varieties made in a range of styles from dry to sweet, but with an emphasis always on exquisite balance.

Less surprising but equally obscure for most Americans are the superb wines of New York, where the primary growing regions are the Finger Lakes upstate and the eastern end of Long Island. The Finger Lakes specialize in aromatic whites, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Gruner Veltliner, while Long Island is a friendly environ for Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a smattering of good Riesling and Chardonnay.

I’ve also tasted award-winning wines from neighboring New Jersey, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

Further south, Virgina, North Carolina and Georgia have made tremendous strides with more traditional grapes. I’ve grown fond of the Cabernet Franc and Viognier from Barboursville and Jefferson Vineyards, both near Charlottesville, Va., at the southwestern tip of the state. Barboursville also makes what I consider one of the two finest Nebbiolo wines (this is the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco in northern Italy) in North America (Baja, Mexico’s LA Cetto makes the other) and Jefferson’s Chardonnay and Bordeaux blend are perhaps the best made in the East Coast and always competitive when up against California rivals in major wine competitions.

Georgia has a small but significant wine-growing region in the mountains in the southwest corner of the state, where the climate is hot and dry by day and somewhat cool at night. Frogtown Cellars, located in Georgia’s Lumpkin County, concentrates on elegant reds and lush whites made from traditional French grape varieties. These wines also compete successfully on the world stage, always winning a fair share of medals when entered in competitions that attract entries from California, Washington, Oregon, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve also tasted award-winning wines in recent years from Texas and Colorado.

The reason you may not be aware of this booming culture of American wine is that California, for the most part, gets all the glory. Washington and Oregon pick up California’s crumbs on the publicity front, and the rest of the country goes begging for attention.

Hopefully “American Wine” will alter that dynamic. I am reminded of a query from a San Diego restaurateur just last week, wanting to know of any California distributors who might have inventory from New York or Virginia. Sadly, I know of none.

Even in New York City it is sometimes difficult to find a New York wine, and my experience says the same is true of Virginia wines in Virginia and Georgia wines in Georgia.

Perhaps you will read “American Wine” and seek out some of the more interesting wines from unusual places. More than likely you will be thwarted by your favorite wine merchant, but the internet has changed the rules. Now you can hop on the computer and join a winery’s wine club, bypassing the gatekeepers who either don’t know there are exceptional wines made all over this country, or have little interest beyond the easy sell of California wine.

There are amazing wines being made across America. A book that documents the breadth of America’s winegrowing chops is long overdue.


In: News, Wine

Comments Off on Calamity Jane Claims Jefferson Cup

Calamity Jane & Jefferson CupHILL 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.



In: Wine

Comments Off on Common Sense Wine Tasting

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.

Prairie Berry WinesMaybe you’re just starting to drink wine, or maybe you’re ready to expand your wine experience. Here are some tips for experimenting and finding some new favorites.
Look for new (to you) growing regions for exciting new wine frontiers
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!
Explore new grape varietals and interesting blends
Single varietal wines made from classic varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) can be tough to produce and expensive to procure.  Try a blend or a grape varietal that is new to your repertoire.  Blends are a great choice for easy sipping as the grapes can help each other to create a well-balanced wine.  Maybe the Cabernet crop suffered with too much sun.  Instead of making a flabby wine, the producer can blend in some cool climate Merlot and add some much needed acidity.  The same applies for lesser known grape varietals.  Grapes have been developed to survive in tough climates without needing “perfect” weather to make great wine.  Try a hybrid grape wine that can shine even in the toughest circumstances.
Find a buddy at your favorite wine store or winery
Do you have a wine retailer that you enjoy talking to and trust for suggestions?  This relationship can be a great asset to expanding your palate.  Make sure your wine store contact knows the flavors you like, knows what kind of food you like to eat and knows your price point.  This is a perfect example of a Gen5 Wine Club perk.  Our staff is always here to answer questions about Prairie Berry wines and beyond!
Consider your food
What kind of food do you like to cook at home or order when you go out?  Do you head straight for traditional Italian flavors like tomato and basil?  Look for an Italian wine you HAVEN’T tried.  Skip the Chianti and try a Montepulciano from the same region.  Let the food you love guide you to different wine pairings for a completely new experience!
Find flavors you love
Learn how to describe the flavors and sensations you like in wine.  Do you enjoy sipping a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day?  Understanding and being able to describe what you like is 90% of the battle.  Once you know some general styles that tickle your taste buds, you can find new wines to try.  If you enjoy that bright, fruity white to cool you down, why not try an Albarino from Spain or Brianna from South Dakota?  Your description will help guide restaurant servers, tasting room associates and wine retailers wherever you visit and will help open doors to new tasting experiences!