Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

No sour grapes here…

We don’t often think of North Dakota as a state with orchards and vineyards. That’s for Washington and California, right? Here, we are hard-wired to think our state is made up of amber waves of grain and range livestock that built up a beef industry. But there are both vineyards and orchards in this state, and they appear to be doing well against wheat and barley.

By Marvin Baker

There’s an organization called the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association that was started a number of years ago in a meeting room in the Carrington Research Extension Center with about a half dozen enthusiasts. It’s gotten big enough now that its conference runs for 2 1/2 days annually, and it’s where the growers and manufacturers get together to taste the fruits of their labor.

We’ve always had grapes in the state. Numerous homeowners have had backyard vines from which they pick and make jelly, juice or wine. At some point, NDSU Extension started growing grapes and analyzing the progress. There was some intense research going on at the Williston Research Extension Center with regard to cold-hearty grapes. When that was deemed a success, vineyards started popping up like mushrooms. Many of them are in Cass County, including the popular Maple River Winery at Casselton.

The first vineyard and winery was actually Pointe of View just to the southwest of Burlington in Ward County. It seemed like an odd duck out there in the west with the rest concentrated near Fargo. But now others are being established in various parts of the state. When local landowners identify the right grape varieties that will grow best on their property, they often indulge and continue building.

One of those vineyards is in the southwest in Glen Ullin. Most people wouldn’t think of a place like Glen Ullin as a place that would support grapes, but it’s more ideal than you might think. There’s a place called Haymarsh Valley Vineyards that is owned by Ken and Mary Ann Duppong. If you think about it, Glen Ullin is one of the warmer places in North Dakota, but it’s also drier than other parts of the state. The Duppongs see that as an advantage because fewer diseases and fungi will burden them.

The Duppongs are members of the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association, and in a typical year, they are harvesting more than 15,000 pounds of grapes from more than 2,200 vines that represent 42 varieties in four Morton County vineyards. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the grapes, the Duppongs started an orchard with apples, pears and plums. Over the years, they added more fruit varieties, including Canadian dwarf cherries, Juneberries, strawberries, raspberries, black currants, sand cherries and honeyberries. Their goal was a “you pick” program as the fruit trees reached their maturity. Instead, several of those fruits are being used in the production of wine, and the Duppongs are poised to continue to be a strong contributor to the Grape and Wine Association.

How many of you knew, or even thought, there are cherries growing in North Dakota? Once a year a semi pulls into the local Walmart parking lot; people open the back door and sell cherries from Washington. We’ve just always associated cherries with Washington state. But there’s been a lot of research in Saskatchewan regarding cold-hearty cherries, just like the grape research that happened in Williston. Because of that research, there are cherries now growing as far north as Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

You wonder how those blossoms can survive in the spring of the year, but they do and they bear fruit. That’s why North Dakota is a good place for cherries to grow. The Zone 2 varieties in northern Saskatchewan would do quite well here, as would Zone 3 and some Zone 4 varieties. The only thing is, we have to be smarter than the birds that like bright, shiny, red berries.

Apparently, the Duppongs have circumvented that issue, and the birds of late summer and early fall don’t have a chance. The Duppongs are harvesting thousands of pounds of cherries each year and most likely produce more than the rest of the state combined.

We’ve always boasted about North Dakota’s ability to grow farm crops. Now, grapes and cherries can be added to the list.