Filed under: Activities & Attractions
Hope Blossoms in a Black Hills Spring
After a long, cold winter, nothing is more welcome than the first blossoms of spring. In the Black Hills, those are usually pasque flowers—South Dakota’s state flower–that suddenly appear under the pines. The fuzzy, purple flowers pave the way for an abundance of other blossoms that make us forget how hard Old Man Winter can bite. They promise sunny days, blue skies and wild fruit for man and beast.
Unfortunately, the promises of spring are not always kept by fall. In South Dakota the weather is as changeable as…well, the weather. We have snow in June and in November it’s 75. Those aren’t the norms, of course, but they’re normal enough that the people who live here learn to not be surprised by much. Once we smell the springtime blossoms we hold our breaths against the next freeze, we pray for enough rain, enough sun, enough warm weather to get the fruit to the perfect ripeness.
For Prairie Berry Winery those prayers, crossed fingers and held breaths are a major part of life. By producing wines that depend on fruit that no one cultivates, the winery is especially vulnerable to the moods of Mother Nature. Buffaloberry bushes, the source of one of our most unique wines, sometimes produce fruit only once every seven years. Chokecherries, wild plums and currants often succumb to the nip of Jack Frost. When drought blankets the Plains, it’s not easy to find the places that were spared its effects enough to produce fruit.
But part of the pioneer heritage that stands behind Prairie Berry is a determination to succeed in the face of failure. In the early days of Prairie Berry (around 2000), drought had its hand firmly around the neck of the Plains. The owners were coming up short in their search for fruit because, as far as they could tell, there was no fruit. In a last attempt to find wild fruit that would allow them to make wine and survive in the business for another year, the winemaker’s father, Ralph, and husband, Matt, loaded up Old Red, Ralph’s pickup, and drove down Highway 44, putting fliers on every telephone pole they could find. They posted stacks of fliers, “Will pay cash for wild fruit.”
Their efforts yielded one phone call.
The man who made the phone call is now responsible for providing Prairie Berry with much of the wild South Dakota fruit that goes into wines like Lawrence Elk, Buffaloberry Fusion, Wild Plum and Chokecherry Medley.
So go ahead, Mother Nature. Send your frost, your drought, your wind, your heat. We’ll survive. How do we know? Because pioneers figure out a way.
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