Good year for grapes

Submitted Photo Wolf Creek Wines are made exclusively from North Dakota grapes grown at the Red Trail Vineyard near Buffalo.

While traditional crops such as wheat and corn and soybeans garner most of the attention in agriculture circles throughout the state, there’s another crop coveted by a unique group of specialists – grapes.

North Dakota vineyard owners supply an increasing number of grapes each year to several wineries in the state. The early word this year is that, despite dry conditions throughout much of this past growing season, the grape crop did very well.

“From what I am hearing it is a good year,” said Randal Albrecht, owner of Wolf Creek Wines in Coleharbor.

Wolf Creek Wines are made from grapes grown annually at the Red Trail vineyard near Buffalo. Long-time owner Rodney Hogen says this year’s grape crop did very well and that grape vines usually don’t have difficulty producing the small fruits when rainfall is less than normal.

“The drought this summer didn’t really affect the grapes,” said Hogen. “They go down real deep for moisture. It’s a good crop this year.”

As usual, Hogen was waiting for the best time to harvest his grape crop. The quality of the grapes is determined by sugar content, PH and acid content.

“When the stars and moon line up that’s when you harvest,” explained Hogen. “You get as close as you can and the winemaker makes adjustments too.”

The grape harvest across the state was expected to get under way in earnest during the last week of September. Albrecht gets his grapes from Hogen, so he has a keen interest in what condition the grapes will be in when they arrive at his winery.

“His is one of the oldest vineyards in the state,” said Albrecht. “He tries (to) time the harvest just right.”

Hybrid grape varieties grown in North Dakota can have a high acid content, especially if picked at the wrong time. This year though, says Albrecht, “the grapes look real promising.”

Red Trail Vineyard got its start in 2003 and opened for business in 2005 when it supplied Pointe of View Winery of Burlington with grapes to make wine.

“People thought I was nuts,” said Hogen. “Now we get all the red grapes up to Randy in Coleharbor. He is known in North Dakota as a good winemaker. He’s won awards for his wines.”

“I think we’re doing pretty well, getting wine out to different markets,” said Albrecht.

Albrecht started winemaking as a hobby and it turned into a retirement business. He produces about 10,000 bottles of wine a year.

“That’s not a lot for a winery,” explained Albrecht.

Perhaps not nationally, but it is a lot for a winemaker in North Dakota where grapes are generally not thought of as a cash crop.