Belle Joli Winery has experienced some milestones over the years, but being part of the recent christening of the USS South Dakota submarine could be the high-water mark.
The sparkling wine used for the christening ceremony was Belle Joli's 2013 Estate Reserve made with La Crescent variety of grapes from its Belle Fourche vineyard. Processing and bottling were done in the Belle Joli Sparking Wine House in Sturgis.
"It was an absolute honor to be chosen and have our estate wine selected for this event," said Matthew Jackson, enologist for Belle Joli Winery. Matthew, along with his wife, Choi, and Matthew's parents John and Patty Jackson, are owners of Belle Joli Winery.
Choi Jackson said members of the commissioning committee contacted the winery last spring about supplying the sparkling wine for the christening.
"They were looking for a South Dakota-made product they could use and they chose us," she said. "They were excited to learn that the grapes used to make the product are grown in Belle Fourche and that we are 100 percent South Dakota made."
And because the bubbly traditionally used for a boat's christening is champagne, Belle Joli's sparkling wine is made using a champagne methods.
The wine used by USS South Dakota sponsor, Deanie Dempsey, was a bottle smaller than the normal 750 ml. Matthew Jackson said the commissioning committee requested a 375 ml. bottle which was placed in a pewter sleeve before smashed on the bow of the boat.
Matthew said as he understands it, the bottle in the sleeve will be sent to the USS South Dakota memorial in Sioux Falls to be on permanent display there.
The Belle Joli wine also was served Friday, Oct. 13 at the sponsor's dinner in Groton, Conn., home to General Dynamics Electric Boat company.
"Once we found out we were nominated as a supplier of the wine, we pulled about 400 bottles we had left of the Estate Reserve," he said. "We sent three cases out for the dinner. We have about 200 bottles left. We made a special display out here at the Sparkling House, so anyone can come out and buy one."
The Jacksons were amazed at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the entire christening of the boat. They were in an area reserved for the sponsors, chairmen and families.
"We felt so fortunate to be a part of the entire process," he said. "It was absolutely wonderful. We're proud to be from South Dakota and have a business here."
Debra Bodenstedt, chair of the USS South Dakota Commissioning Committee, agreed saying the christening was a fantastic event.
"I was so proud to watch this time honored ceremony. The patriotic music, the red, white and blue bunting, it gave me chills. I was beaming with pride when the sponsor stated 'In the name of the United States. I christen thee South Dakota,'" she said.
Bodenstedt, a Navy veteran who served 28 years active duty, retired to Yankton in 2010 and was chosen in Nov. 2015 to head up the commissioning committee.
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"It (the christening) was the culmination of a lot of work by our committee, and a significant milestone for the submarine. All South Dakotans and all Americans should be proud," she said.
Sen. Mike Rounds spoke during the ceremony saying that as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Seapower Subcommittee - which has jurisdiction for the Navy and Marine Corps, a member of the USS South Dakota Honorary Commissioning Committee, and a lifelong South Dakotan, it was truly a privilege to be on hand for the christening.
"On behalf of all South Dakotans, I cannot underscore how excited we are to have this state-of-the-art submarine named after our great state," he said. "It is in keeping with South Dakotans’ long and proud history of service in our armed forces and their service for years to come. After all, the USS South Dakota is expected to be active for more than three decades, and this is the first time ever we will have a submarine named after our state.
Rounds said the USS South Dakota will play an important role in national security at a critical point in our nation’s history.
"It will carry out important missions and, with our ballistic missile submarines, it will fulfill a crucial role in keeping Americans safe. I look forward to watching it in action in the decades to come," he said. "And - I know it will make all South Dakotans proud."
Gov. Dennis Daugaard joined Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and Rounds in Groton, Conn., to serve as the keynote speaker at the christening ceremony for the USS South Dakota SSN 790.
“South Dakotans can be proud that this Virginia-class submarine bears our state’s name,” Gov. Daugaard said. “The boat contains the Navy’s latest technology and will be lighter and faster than the previous class of submarines.”
The christening is the second of three milestones for the USS South Dakota. The keel laying ceremony was held April 4, 2016, to recognize the beginning of construction and a commissioning ceremony to officially admit the USS South Dakota to the Navy is expected in 2018.
In 2016, Gov. Daugaard signed legislation appropriating $100,000 to the South Dakota Department of Military to support the USS South Dakota Commissioning Committee’s activities. The Committee has since raised additional funds from the private sector.
This boat is the third U.S. Navy vessel to be named after South Dakota, and is the first underwater vessel to bear the state’s name. The first USS South Dakota, a Pennsylvania-class armored cruiser, was christened in 1904. The ship was attached to the Pacific Fleet during the Mexican Civil War and to the Atlantic Fleet during World War I. It was renamed the USS Huron in 1920 and was decommissioned in 1927.
The second USS South Dakota was the first South Dakota-class battleship and was christened in 1941. This ship, known as “Old Incredible,” had two tours in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic during World War II. The ship’s 13 battle stars were matched only by the USS Washington. This USS South Dakota was decommissioned in 1947, and a memorial to the ship in Sioux Falls includes an outline of the ship’s main deck.
Commander Ron Withrow said the new submarine is not some decorative vessel. The South Dakota is a Virginia class submarine, an attack submarine that is capable of destroying enemy ships, carrying out intelligence missions and participating in mine warfare, among other duties.
Weighing the equivalent of 65 blue whales, the new South Dakota will boast four torpedo tubes and two Virginia Payload Tubes, Withrow said. Each payload tube can hold six Tomahawk missiles that can hit targets 1,240 miles away, slightly farther than the distance from Sioux Falls to New York City.
The South Dakota will host 130 crew members on board and is capable of spending months underwater.
"The only thing that limits our time underwater is the amount of food we can carry on board," Withrow said.