Twenty years ago, the idea still persisted that quality wines can’t be produced in the high, dry climate of western South Dakota. That has been decidedly proven wrong.
Prairie Berry Winery, owned by Sandi Vojta, husband Matt Keck and Sandi’s father Ralph Vojta, has racked up more than 850 wine awards and become a popular visitor destination on the outskirts of Hill City.
Prairie Berry’s commercial winery makes 20 different wine varieties from grapes, raspberries, plums, peaches, chokecherries and rhubarb. The wines have fanciful names such as Red Ass Rhubarb, Lawrence Elk, Calamity Jane and Pink Slip.
Next door at Miner Brewing Co., which Matt and Sandi opened in 2013, patrons can find a wide variety of craft beers and ales on tap. Last year, Prairie Berry expanded East River, opening Prairie Berry East Bank in Sioux Falls.
The business continues to grow. In April 2015, Prairie Berry released its Anna Pesa wines, handcrafted from traditional European wine grapes named for Sandi’s great-great-grandmother.
Sandi, who is the winemaker and brewmaster, credits Anna Pesa Vojta with bringing the family’s winemaking tradition to South Dakota from Moravia, Czechoslovakia, in the late 1800s. Anna and her husband, Jon, homesteaded near Mound City in the north central part of South Dakota.
Three generations later, that winemaking tradition became a commercial venture for Ralph, Matt and Sand. In 1998, Prairie Berry was awarded South Dakota’s second commercial winery license. They moved the business to Rapid City from Mobridge in 2001, and three years later moved into the newly built winery and tasting room outside Hill City.
Today the Prairie Berry operation spreads across several building, where visitors can dine, sip wine, drink beer, hold special events, buy wine and purchase gifts. In addition, Prairie Berry wines are on sale at retail outlets throughout South Dakota.
Meanwhile, winemaking has become a full-blown industry in the Rushmore Region and South Dakota. The state Legislature passed the Farm Winery Act in 1996, and a year later the state produced just 230 gallons of wine. In 2012, more than 102,000 gallons were produced.
In the Black Hills, you can sip wines at a number of tasting rooms and wineries, including Stone Faces Winery in Hill City, Naked Winery in Hill City, Shade in Deadwood, Belle Joli in Belle Fourche, Firehouse Winery in Rapid City and Belle Joil Sparkling House in Sturgis.