Many Midwestern winery owners work multiple jobs, but few can surpass the routine that Nicole Dietman of Buffalo Rock Winery maintained until last year. After getting her two pre school children in bed, she would work in her Buffalo, Minnesota winery until midnight. Then, after sleeping for four hours, she would get up and drive 40 miles to her full-time job as a golf course manager.
This schedule is more than Superman- or Superwoman- could maintain indefinitely, so last year Dietman left her day job to devote her full efforts to her family and the winery. This spring she opened a new outdoor tasting bar and patio at Buffalo Rock Winery, which is about 30 miles west of Minneapolis on the Heartland Wine Trail.
In its fourth season, the winery can now accommodate twice the number of guests being served at the counter. Production has also increased to 1,900 gallons per year and Dietman thinks she has substantial room to grow.
Across the Midwest, wineries owned by women are unusual. Buffalo Rock is one of four wineries in Minnesota owned by women. The others are Cindy Ohman at Goose Lake, Nan Bailly at Alexis Bailly and Karen Koenen at Hinterlands.
Dietman is definitely a “hands on” owner. She is not only the winemaker, tasting room and vineyard manager, she also designs the labels, updates the website and social media, answers daily emails and phone calls and even hand-painted a Buffalo statue bearing the winery’s logo (see photo below.)
However, she is quick to credit the support of family and friends since the first vines were planted in 2007 (while she was pregnant with her son.) Each wine has its own story. The majority of the wines are named after experiences (Mayhem, Chaos) or family members. Her children have their own labels; Sweet Addilyn, Frontenac Gris and Marcus’ Marq, Marquette.
“My 4 and 5 year olds think everyone owns a winery and all kids have wines named after them,” Dietman said.
The best seller at Buffalo Rock is Oxymoron, a St. Croix and Concord blend with 2% residual sugar. Having a Labrusca based wine as a top seller is not unusual for Midwestern wineries, but the wine list at Buffalo Rock includes some hybrid wines that one does not find often.
For example, Nicole’s eponymously named estate grown Prairie Star- Blond Bomber- is the winery’s third best seller. “Blonde Bomber is 100% Prairie Star, and it makes for a very nice ‘not too sweet and not too dry wine;’ plus it’s fruity so even those who think they need their wine to be very sweet, can still enjoy this as an option,” she said. In the vineyard, Dietman said she finds that Prairie Star is a “nice” grape to work with.
Growing grapes on the 45th parallel in Minnesota is no easy task. Temperatures drop to -20F to -25F every few winters. For much of the winter and spring, there is a continuous cover of snow that extends all the way to the North Pole on which the arctic air rides like a highway.
“Our Prairie Star is about the same as the other five-year old vines,” Dietman said, “It looks like a 2-3 year old vine.” Dietman said that she has had “a bad run” of frost over the last couple of springs and then herbicide drift issues last summer damaged part of her three-quarter acre vineyard.
“Hopefully, 2013 will bring a bountiful harvest,” she said. “We have not had Fall frost during the past several years, which has helped.” This spring, there were few frost problems for most Minnesota grape growers, however the growing season started out cool with leaves just opening on Memorial Day weekend.
See related story: Interpreting the New Minnesota Winery Study
Dietman has both a Master’s and Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Minnesota and she maintains ties to her alma mater. “Katie Cook (enology project leader at the University’s Agricultural Experiment Station) was at the Winery this spring to teach a class on wine flaws for area wineries. I also attend numerous Minnesota Farm Winery Association (Dietman is a Board member) meetings at the University’s Horticultureal Research Center. I live the “U”, and I am also big fan of the Minnesota hybrids.”
In addition to the Minnesota Cold Climate cultivars that are named after her children, Dietman also makes a delicious LaCrescent wine and perhaps the only commercial wine made from a blend of organically certified Marquette and Frontenac grapes. This wine is called “Papa Steve’s Contraband” -named after her father in law- and is done is a port style that Dietman said has a hint of ginger.
Dennis Weeks in Alexandria, Minnesota grows the organic Marquette and Frontenac for Buffalo Rock. Buffalo Rock does spray fungicides, like almost all Minnesota vignerons, but Dietman tries to limit chemical applications.
Minnesota is famous for its resilient pioneer women like Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote “Little House on the Prairie.” Dietman carries on the upper Midwestern tradition of strong, confident women who appear to have an almost superhuman energy. “As long as I get 5-6 hours of sleep, it sure beats the four I used get,” Dietman said.