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South Dakota Winery Wins Big Federal Grant

Belle Jolí Awarded $300,000 in USDA Rural Development Funds

by Linda Jones McKee
belle joli
The Jackson family that owns Belle Jolí Winery tends 25 acres of vineyard planted with Frontenac, Marquette, St. Croix, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Valvin Muscat and Concord.
Belle Fourche, S.D.—A tiny South Dakota winery won’t stay so small after being awarded a $300,000 grant to expand its market. The United States Department of Agriculture announced in February that one distillery in Nebraska, a hops company in Iowa and four wineries in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota would receive a total of $480,331 in Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grants. The largest sum—$300,000—will go to Belle Jolí Winery, a family operation in Belle Fourche, S.D.

Most people in the industry are aware that there are wineries in all 50 states but might still be surprised to learn that South Dakota has 18, according to WinesVinesDATA. South Dakota summers are hot, winters are extremely cold, the land is generally flat and the state’s total population is less than 825,000.

However, the western part of South Dakota is home to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In 2010, more than 2.3 million people visited Mount Rushmore—a lot of potential customers for wineries. The region now has three wineries: 25,000-case Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City, Schadé Vineyard (5,000 cases) in Volga and Belle Jolí Winery, with vineyards in Belle Fourche and a tasting room in Deadwood.

According to Belle Jolí’s Matthew Jackson, whose parents Patty and John planted their first grapes in 2000, there is a 15-mile wide ring around the Black Hills that serves as a “banana belt.” The Black Hills help moderate temperatures, and autumnal frosts occur later, providing a longer time for grapes to ripen more completely. Harvest typically takes place in October rather than September, as is the case in vineyards at similar latitudes.

Another favorable factor for grapegrowing is the availability of cold-tolerant hybrid cultivars developed by the University of Minnesota as well as Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. The Jacksons now tend a total of 25 acres of vineyard planted with Frontenac, Marquette, St. Croix, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Valvin Muscat and Concord. Harvest from the young vineyard in 2011 yielded 30 tons of fruit.

Jackson anticipates that when the vines are at full production, they will yield about 120-125 tons per harvest. During the past harvest, grapes came in with pH levels of approximately 3.4, and red grapes had sugars at about 25° Brix.

Winemaker trained in California
The winery was bonded in 2007 and opened for sales in 2009, the same year Matthew Jackson graduated from California State University, Fresno, with a degree in enology. Most of the wine sales take place at the winery’s tasting room in Deadwood, popular as a historic tourist town, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and is buried next to Calamity Jane.

The matching grant from the USDA is to be used over a two-year period to “expand the winery’s marketplace.” The Jacksons are already in the planning stages for a new winery facility that will be located near Sturgis on Interstate 90. The new production space will allow the winery to grow from its current 4,000-case size to at least 10,000 cases. They will dig a winery cave and plant an additional five acres of grapes, possibly La Crescent for sparkling wine production.

“We haven’t yet received all the details on what the specifics will be,” Jackson told Wines & Vines, “but we hope to expand into other South Dakota areas such as Sioux Falls and Brookings, as well as into surrounding states. We’re excited to make something that’s our own, from the grapes to the wine, and the grant should help us increase our sales.”

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