HILL CITY | "A semi-sweet finish that pairs great with dinner or dessert ..." I heard my server, Jami, say as I placed the glass of Red Ass Rhubarb wine to my lips.
It’s the Fourth of July, and the tasting room at Prairie Berry Winery is packed with tourists and Black Hills residents sampling the two dozen featured wines. One of the most popular selections, Red Ass Rhubarb, is also the winery’s most award-winning wine.
In Prairie Berry’s wine production room, away from the throng of people waiting to be served in the tasting room, Jami takes my three friends and me through six sets of wines on our tasting tour. The only ones being served in the room, we all request the Red Ass Rhubarb; something all my friends agree is one of their favorites.
Michele Slott, a spokeswoman for Prairie Berry Winery, said the Red Ass Rhubarb just seems to appeal to many people’s taste buds.
“There’s just something about that wine, the way it’s made, that people just love the taste,” Slott said. “That particular wine seems to appeal to more pallets.”
A fruity wine with a brilliant ruby-red color, the Red Ass Rhubarb is made from, of course, rhubarb, but also native raspberries. Slott said the winery gets as much fruit as it can find from within the state to make all its wines.
“Every wine is a different process; it just depends on what type of wine it is,” Slott said. “We use wild chokecherry’s, buffalo berries and of course rhubarb.”
W. Blake Gray, a wine blogger and San Francisco Chronicle wine-competition judge, said Red Ass Rhubarb was one of the best fruit wines he has ever had.
“Unless Oakland A’s second baseman Mark Ellis starts hitting again, this wine could be my second favorite thing about South Dakota, just behind watching untrained college kids wrestle alligators at Reptile Gardens,” Blake Gray wrote on his blog.
Despite the fresh face to the tasting room, completed a year ago, having our tasting in the wine production room was a quaint and fun experience. I’m not sure how my friends and I managed to secure passage past the tasting room’s bar full of wine-thirsty guests, into the back confines of the empty production room.
Prairie Berry typically doesn’t give tours, so not many people see how it all starts, Jami told us as we filled out our selection card for our free gulp-sized samples.
Prairie Berry Winery, a family owned and operated winery, has been in commercial production making wine officially in the state since 1998, Slott said. Wine-making, however, is a family tradition spanning generations, Slott said.
“This family has been making wine and sharing it with friends and sharing it with neighbors since they came over from Czechoslovakia,” Slott said.
In 2000, the winery made its move from Mobridge, out of its basement operation, to south of Rapid City, and finally to its current location on Highway 385 near Hill City, Slott said. It has been expanding its operation ever since, she said.
Facing a line of 10,500 gallon tanks, most likely full of the wine my friends and I were thoroughly enjoying, Jami carefully poured each of our individual selections into shimmering glasses.
Wine bottles lined the boards that constituted our makeshift bar in the production room, a short hallway away from the tasting room.
One after another, my friends and I learned about savory merlots, tart Zinfandels and dry chardonnay wines. Just a sip and it was gone, we savored each sample as Jami poured our next one, carefully explaining to us what to look for.
"Now this one has an 'oaky' and savory aroma, the taste of red apple and light tannin and a smoky finish," Jami told me as she poured my last sample, 3Rednecks. "It goes great with prime rib ..." I heard her say as I raised my glass.