“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” — Galileo Galilea.
“Where there is no wine, there is no love.” — Euripides.
COLFAX, N.D. — Bob and Deb Grosz are planning to have a grape time in retirement.
To get there, the Fargoans, now in their second year as owners of Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery, are enjoying the process of coaxing cold climate wines out of the region’s grapes and other fruit.
For the Groszes, it all started 15 years ago with a wine-tasting trip to California’s Napa Valley.
That got Bob to buy a winemaking kit, and before long, he became an oenophile’s oenophile, reveling in the ages-old alchemy of turning water, fruit and yeast into veritas producing vino.
“From a trip out to Napa, to a hobby, to an obsession, to this,” he said, gesturing out over the Dakota Vines tasting room at 17355 County Road 4.
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“This” includes: a soybean field about 25 miles south of Fargo that is slowly being switched over to a vineyard; the winery with a tasting room, private party and events room; and a big space for winemaking and storage, plus a patio and a stage outside for bands and special events.
Dakota Vines makes 14 different types of wine, seven from grapes and seven with various other fruits, all of it sourced in the region, Deb said late last month.
They buy frontenac, frontenac gris, Brianna, Marquette and la crescent grapes, all of which are bred to grow in this harsh climate, she said.
Their rhubarb comes from about 4 miles away. The chokecherries come from the Grand Forks, N.D., area, Bob said. Some of the grapes come from Wahpeton and Buffalo, N.D. Other grapes come from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Given the subzero temperatures that rule the winters in North Dakota, you won’t find a merlot, chardonnay or cabernet in the Dakota Vines racks.
“We like those, but we don’t have those, because we can’t grow them here,” Deb said.
Bob has been busy the past couple years — but by his estimation a good sort of busy.
In the last two years, he’s planted 500 vines total of two varietals. One is called crimson pearl, which produces a red wine. The other is Itasca, which produces a white wine. Next year, he plans to put in another 250 vines for a frontenac varietal. After that, he said he hopes to be able to plant another 250 vines of a grape variety tested by North Dakota State University. He also hopes to convince some of his neighbors to begin growing grapes so he can buy more of his raw material locally.
The varietals they've planted were tested to 30- and 40-below zero Fahrenheit, and the oldest vines will probably start producing next year, their third year in the ground.
“It certainly is a lot of work, but actually it is a different type of work that I enjoy a lot,” said Bob, whose full-time job is associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Fargo Public Schools’ secondary schools. “Everything from planting in the vineyard. Just being able to come out and work in the country and get my hands dirty. I enjoy it a lot. And then the winemaking itself, it’s something that since I’ve been doing it at home for 15-plus years, it just kind of took everything from a small scale and ramped it up to a larger scale to produce what we can for our customers.”
Deb, meanwhile, juggles the job of sales and tasting room management with her post teaching at Concordia College, preparing the next generation of teachers.
Over the years, Bob immersed himself in learning the craft of winemaking, citing work with a local vintner. He also takes online classes through the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance, a National Science Foundation-funded effort between the Missouri State University system and colleges and universities across the U.S. He has taken a number of online classes in winemaking, as well as traveling to wineries in Minnesota and a wine lab, in Ohio to get hands-on experience.
Deb said the region’s winemakers are friendly competitors.
“It’s been great. The collegial relationship we have with the other wineries has been really, really fun,” she said.
Dakota Vines is also part of The Red River Wine Trek with seven other wineries. Visiting and checking off all the wineries on the passport-style card earns wine lovers a free T-shirt, Deb said.
“It’s been really fun to see customers come in. They are really excited about it,” she said.
The community has also embraced the new business, Bob said, including holding PTA meetings and city commission events there.
“We feel very fortunate to be here,” Bob said.
In addition to their wines, the Groszes carry local craft beers and serve cheese, crackers, lavosh and other foods that pair well with wine.
Their license also allows for a restaurant, so caterers can use their kitchen to cook.
In the back of the winery building, large fermentation tanks sit ready for the coming harvest, along with cases of wine bottled last year.
In their first year, they produced 500 cases of wine (12 bottles to a case). In this last year, the Groszes produced 750 cases of wine. The plan for this fall includes buying enough grapes and other fruit to produce 1,000 cases.
Bob said that in a few years, he'll be ready to put a cork in his education career and focus on being the chief winemaker, building and groundskeeper and vineyard manager.
Looking out toward his sun-drenched vines from just outside the winery, he sounded ready to make it a toast.
“This is where Deb and I will be retired,” he said.