Hill City Wineries (…drinking in South Dakota)

On a recent vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we discovered that besides monuments, curvy roads and scenery, the hills are filled with wine. In Hill City, where we were staying, we were able to visit three wineries, a wine store and even throw in a craft brewery for good measure.

Naked Winery

Okay, who could a resist a place with a name like Naked Winery? We were led astray a bit by TripAdvisor which listed this as a restaurant in addition to being a winery. We were hungry, but found that they served no food. Since we were there, we paid a nominal fee and did a quick wine tasting. They just had one gal pouring for everyone in there and she wasn’t very informative. The wines did have catchy names though so at one point she was asking my husband if he wanted Penetration. Hmmm? Neither of us found anything that we would categorize as great, but during the tasting there were a couple that were better than others. The Tease Riesling was good. It is hard to go wrong with a Riesling. There was nothing exciting about this wine, but it was good. The Cougar Semi-Sparkling was good too. I’m not coming up with any fancy adjectives to describe these wines because they were drinkable, but nothing special. We did buy a bottle of the Cougar, probably as much because of the name and the bubbles as anything.

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Prairie Berry Winery

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Cutting to the punch line, I’ll say that this place was the best and our favorite of the trip. The name “Prairie Berry Winery” had me a little skeptical. I feared this would be an amateur operation with super-sweet wines made out of various fruits rather than a place that really knows how to make wine. The first impression walking into the tasting room, however, was that perhaps I was wrong. It was a very upscale and professional operation. We were directed to a wine server and told that the tastings were complimentary. This guy was so knowledgeable! He gave us great descriptions and explanations of everything we tasted and was able to make spot-on suggestions on what we might like. He even gave us more tastes than what officially came with the free tasting. I felt a little special, but realize this is the same treatment others probably get too. After all, he is trying to sell wine. We found way too many wines that we liked here. The free-shipping offer also helped entice us to make a purchase.

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Our favorites included:

  • Gold Digger. A light white, pear wine. Pear wine? Really? Yes, really. It was surprisingly delicious and refreshing.
  • Red Ass Rhubarb. This is Prairie Berry Winery’s most famous wine. They likely sell a lot of bottles just due to the catchy name. We were pretty leery because we don’t usually like rhubarb wines or wines with silly names, but the pourer made us try it. We were very pleasantly surprised. It is no surprise that this is the most award-winning wine made in South Dakota.
  • Anna Pesä Riesling 2014. Finally a traditional grape wine. This was a good Riesling. The 2014 tasted quite a bit different than the 2013, demonstrating how weather affecting grape growth can really affect the resulting wine.
  • Great Grandma’s Chockcherry Bliss. This dessert wine features chokecherries and brandy. It actually tastes a bit like cherry cola. I usually don’t necessarily believe things like that when they tell me, but really, I could taste a little cherry cola.
  • 3Rednecks. This was a very solid Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m not always very fond of what I consider heavy, dark, chewable red wines, but occasionally find one that I agree would pair perfectly with steak or other chunks of meat at mealtime. I could definitely drink the 3Rednecks.
  • Lawrence Elk. This wine features black currants. It is semi-sweet. It is suggested to pair this with applewood smoked cheddar cheese. I think that sounds like a good idea.

Prairie Berry Winery also features a kitchen. So, after our wine tasting, we each had a glass of wine and fancy Focaccia Flatbread Pizza.

After such a great time at Prairie Berry Winery, we decided to go next door and taste some beer.

Black Hills Miner Brewing Company

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Since we’d just spent hours at a winery, I didn’t think to take very good notes at the Black Hills Miner Brewing Co. Despite it being a week night, the place was pretty crowded. They had good tunes playing too. We shared a tasting flight. We tasted six different beers and outside of the “Turn a Blind Rye,” enjoyed them all. Like usual, I was a little partial to the darker beers.

Stone Faces Winery and Distillery

On our way back to the hotel after a long day of sight-seeing, we made a quick stop at the Stone Faces Winery for free tasting. The wines were not special. They have the honor of providing the official Merlot for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally each year, but even my Merlot loving husband was not that impressed with Stone Faces Winery’s Merlot. We did purchase a bottle of their Rushmore White to give as a gift along our travels. It was tasty for a sweet wine, but as I said, not really very special.

We did find one special item at Stone Faces though…..their rum! We brought home a bottle of the Farmer’s Rum from their coming soon distillery. Not accustomed to doing shots of pure liquor, I was not sure I even wanted to taste it, but I am so glad I did. It is so smooth and easy to sip. When cold winter arrives, I might occasionally cuddle up with some Farmer’s Rum on the rocks, straight up, or maybe even neat.

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Twisted Pine Winery

Our last winery was a tad disappointing. It was really just a wine store. They charged for tastings of regional wines, but you got to choose a glass to take home. Since we had already tasted wines from Prairie Berry, Stone Faces and the Naked Winery, there were not too many choices left. We hadn’t ventured to Rapid City to taste at Firehouse Wine Cellars, so we tried their wine at Twisted Pine. The pourer was fairly distracted with a much more attractive female customer, so we didn’t get to hear much about what we were tasting. Maybe it was the atmosphere or because we had already tasted better wine along our travels, but we were not enthused with anything we tasted and outside of an awful wine infused with jalapeños, nothing was very memorable. We walked away with just our free glasses.

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Tasting beverages was definitely not the focus of our vacation, but with all the choices around Hill City we found it to be a fun and relaxing activity to do near the end of our busy days. South Dakota does not rival Napa Valley or Minnesota’s wine country, but does offer some nice wine choices.

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