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Published December 21, 2010, 10:30 AM

ND winery is part of expanding prairie industry

BURLINGTON, N.D. — Here, on the edge of the North Dakota prairie overlooking the Souris River Valley, Jeff Peterson operates a business that he says “started as a hobby and got out of hand.”

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

BURLINGTON, N.D. — Here, on the edge of the North Dakota prairie overlooking the Souris River Valley, Jeff Peterson operates a business that he says “started as a hobby and got out of hand.”

His Pointe of View Winery, established in 2002, sells wine. some made from grapes grown in his own vineyard. It also has expanded, in a small way, into distilled spirits.

“I call us a nano-distillery. I’m treating distilled spirits as a supplement to the winery. The winery is my primary focus,” Peterson says.

Most of Pointe of View’s sales come at the winery’s tasting room.

“We’re a destination,” often for out-of-state travelers, he says. The winery is less than a mile from U.S. Highway 2, a major east-west route.

The company does some wholesaling, mainly in north central North Dakota, using a local distributor. Peterson, whose wife, Diana, is involved in the business, also attends and sells wine at area events such as trade festivals and craft shows, and does some direct shipping.

The winery is open year round, but only by appointment from January through April.

“We’re glad to open up,” Peterson says.

Peterson credits Rep. Dan Ruby, a Minot, N.D., state legislator, for playing a crucial role in passing the legislation that allowed wineries to operate in the state and, more recently, the legislation allowing distilleries.

“I could see the potential” for wineries across the state when Peterson, a constituent, first approached him, Ruby says.

The wineries held promise in value-added agriculture, economic development and tourism, Ruby says.

Distilleries are an expansion of that promise, especially since North Dakota produces so much cereal grain, Ruby says.

A distilled spirit is an alcoholic beverage obtained from the distillation of wine or other fermented fruit juice or from cereal grains that first have been brewed, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica website.

Ruby says he wasn’t sure at first whether the state’s climate would allow grapes to be grown in sufficient quantity to support even small wineries.

A growing industry

Despite the climate, North Dakota’s small grape and wine industry is expanding.

The North Dakota Grape Growers Association website lists 18 vineyards and 10 wineries. Most of the operations are in North Dakota, with a few in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.

The number of both vineyards and wineries in the area steadily has been growing in the past few years, thanks in part to research by Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, who works in the department of plant sciences at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

She’s been working since 2004 to help area grape growers develop growing practices and varieties better suited to the region’s climate.

The Northern Plains’ short growing season is a challenge, she says.

For instance, grapes in the region must be flowering in June and ripened by September, a relatively short window.

Growing grapes is very different from growing wheat, soybeans and other crops popular in the region.

“There’s a real learning curve,” she says.

For example, grape growers must manage the “crop load” properly. That means, among other things, reducing the number of buds if necessary.

She encourages anyone interested in establishing a vineyard to start small, with no more than a one-acre plot.

But she’s upbeat about the industry’s future in the region.

“I see the potential as just tremendous,” Hatterman-Valenti says.

Vineyards and small wineries in surrounding states have sparked “a rural revitalization that’s just amazing,” she says.

Building on a hobby

Peterson and Ken Eggleston of Burlington were both active in hobby wine making.

“We decided to take it to the next level” and open a commercial winery, Peterson says.

“It was quite a process. The paperwork is a little daunting, to look at it first. But we got through it and received our (state) approval in early 2002,” he says.

There were skeptics, at least initially.

“When I planted these grapes eight years ago, I’m sure people driving by shook their heads and thought, ‘My goodness. Doesn’t this guy know that grapes don’t grow in North Dakota?’ ” Peterson says.

“But for the most part the support we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. I can’t say enough good things about it,” he says.

Starting out, Peterson and Eggleston remodeled what had been a former four-stall garage to provide space for production, wine tasting and storage.

The remodeled winery is in the Point of View housing subdivision. Peterson and Eggleston added an “e” to come up with Pointe of View Winery.

Two years ago, Peterson left his job in advertising sales and bought out Eggleston and now devotes his full attention to the winery.

“There were a few times I wondered if I did the right thing, turning this into a full-time job. Yeah, I did,” Peterson says.

National economic problems haven’t affected business, he says.

Peterson has several family members who help with the business. Volunteers help to pick the grapes and then watch the grapes processed into wine.

Using native fruits

Pointe of View Winery normally sells 10 to 16 varieties of wine, typically for $10 to $15 per bottle.

“We use a lot of native fruits, honey and some grapes we grow ourselves. A lot of the fruits vary in availability from year to year” depending of the weather, he says.

This year, a spring hailstorm reduced Pointe of View’s grape crop by more than 50 percent.

The winery was able to offset that, in part, with grapes of the same variety from another vineyard with which Point of View had contracted.

A few wines are made with grapes from California.

Identifying the winery’s most popular product is difficult, he says.

“It just depends on the individual’s taste buds. There are five or six wines that are annual contenders for our most popular wines,” he says.

They include the two rhubarb wine varieties as well as Terra Haute Rouge, the wine made from grapes grown on site.

“We find that most people coming here still have a tendency to like a little bit sweeter wine,” he says.

“I prefer dryer wines myself. I tell people that if I made them (wines) how like I them, I wouldn’t have room for the inventory,” he says with a chuckle.

Fairly or not, residents of the Northern Plains often have the reputation of being unsophisticated about wine.

Peterson is diplomatic when asked about that.

“Some people really know their wines. Some people might not know their wines, but they know what they like. In the end, that’s what it comes down to,” he says.

“You’re not going to make a person who enjoys a sweet wine sit down and enjoy a $100 bottle of Cabernet. It just won’t happen. To them, it would be awful. But they might sit down and drink a $14 bottle of wild plum and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he says.

Expanding into spirits

Peterson emphasizes that his foray into distilled spirits is still on a very small scale.

Some of the same equipment can be used to produce both wine and spirits, he says.

He’s made small batches of distilled spirits, starting with apply brandy. He’s interested in making traditional corn whiskey and whiskey and eventually in producing rum and gin.

The distilled spirits sell for $18 to $25 per bottle and are marketed under the “Jeff Taylor” banner to distinguish them from Pointe of View products.

There is no actual Jeff Taylor.

“It’s just a name I like,” Peterson says.

Peterson takes a little ribbing now that he’s in the wine business full time.

“People tell me, ‘It must be nice to be retired.’ I tell them, ‘Retired? My back’s never hurt this much in all my life.’ There’s a lot more manual labor involved with this, but it’s something I really enjoy,” he says.

“I have a passion for this, and that makes this seem just that much more fun.”

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