Hosted on the lush estate of South Dakota’s first winery, Valiant Vineyards, The Great Dakota Wine Festival immerses attendees in the region’s sundry flavors. A two-day schedule of feasting and festivities takes place beside the tranquil waters of the Vermillion River, with crowds enjoying live music, cuisine, and demonstrations on how to navigate a waterfall in a barrel. Upon entry, visitors receive a punch card worth 10 samplings, allowing them to savor the mellow fruits of merlot, the oak-tinged sweetness of chardonnay, and the horrified stares of fellow attendees upon the creation of a merlot-donnay. Guests can also remove their foot coverings and sink into a barrel of squishiness at the grape-stomping booth. Cooking demonstrations impart nuggets of culinary know-how, and the amateur winemaking contest shines light on the beverage artisans of tomorrow. Each guest also receives a souvenir wineglass for at-home imbibing.
In 2000, a group of farmers decided to diversify their crop production by planting twirling wine grapes into the rolling Midwestern hills. The initial smattering of vines quickly grew into a 4-acre vineyard and led to the launch of Silver Hills Vineyards & Winery, a small operation intent on crafting 100% Nebraska wines. The vintners’ Midwestern pride can be seen in their choice of ingredients—all wines are made with fruit grown at local vineyards and tattooed with the state motto—as well as their choice of decor: the outdoor tasting deck is shaped like Nebraska.
Silver Hills produces red, white, rosé, and berry wines, which visitors can sample during the vineyards’ limited hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Bottle labels display woodcuts by John Schirmer, a resident of neighboring Iowa who has carved wood professionally for more than 35 years.
Trent Meyer and Derek Bergman are committed members of the United Methodist Church, and sometimes choose to practice their faith through tree climbing, zip lining, swimming, and laser tag. They direct the Methodist-run Camp Fontanelle, a year-round outdoor camp sprawled across more than 180 wooded acres of donated land. Both Trent and Derek draw from backgrounds as campers—and Trent from six years as a teacher—to lead summer camps for preschool through high-school students. They lead a team of camp counselors who coordinate harnessed-rope tree climbing, activities on low-ropes courses, archery lessons, and outdoor laser-tag matches.
They also draw visitors at different times of year with water slides, a 35'x65' jumping pillow and bounce houses, a petting barn filled with alpacas and goats, and pony rides. During the autumn-harvest season, they unveil the annual theme of a 10-acre corn maze filled with 5 miles of trails. A 3-acre pumpkin patch contains small and large carving pumpkins, gourds, mums, and Indian corn, which visitors can harvest and stuff into a large, horn-shaped wicker basket.