Home to Unique Wines, Jumping Chickens and Cuddly Cats

The city of Sioux Falls disappeared behind us as we navigated the road leading to Strawbale Winery. The South Dakota autumn sky was a brilliant blue, and the late afternoon sun warmed us through the open windows of our car. From what we had been told about the winery, we were headed straight for an out-of-the-ordinary wine tasting.

Simon, Otto and I had been exploring the delightful surprise that was Sioux Falls. During a conversation we learned about Strawbale Winery, and were encouraged to visit and check it out for ourselves.

As soon as we shook hands with Strawbale’s founder and owner, Don South, who greeted us upon our arrival, we knew we were in for a treat.

Eco-Friendly Winery

Chatting with Don, we learned why the winery is called Strawbale, and how important recycling, repurposing and preserving are to him and his wife, Susie.

Let’s start with the name. The interior and exterior walls of the building are made of stucco. Now, think of those walls as a construction sandwich with a filling of, you guessed it, bales of straw.

The Tasting Room at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

The Tasting Room at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

These straw bales possess highly efficient insulating properties, reducing the winery’s heating and cooling requirements. Don told us the heat produced by the lights is often enough to keep the building warm during those harsh South Dakota winters. Then he pointed to a small window fan, which is enough to keep things cool in the summer. This insulation also insures the controlled environment of the cellars and caves are maintained, a critical element in producing fine wine.

But for the Souths, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility don’t stop with innovative insulation. The timber for the frame construction and the white pine flooring came courtesy of the devastation caused by a wind storm that ravaged northern Minnesota. Remnants from discarded bleachers once belonging to the University of Sioux Falls are now wine racks. And the counter tops were once slate chalk boards from a local high school.

The Souths also prefer to use as much local produce as possible. They produce some of their wine from grapes grown on Strawbale Winery’s half acre of vineyard. The remaining grapes come from five producers across South Dakota, the largest of which is located less than five miles away. Since Strawbale produces mostly fruit wines, Don and Susie make excellent use of the luscious bounty grown on nearby farms and orchards.

People-Friendly Atmosphere

Strawbale Winery is located less than 15 miles of easy driving from Sioux Falls. Don is the winemaker, as well as the owner, and has come a long way from his first efforts with a winemaking kit.

Susie’s background in horticulture and Don’s entrepreneurial spirit from his former life in securities, made for the perfect combination when it came to starting a winery. They began experimenting with different types of grapes, and in 2000, with the help of family and friends, began planting. Three years later, the wine they were producing was of a high enough quality that in 2004 they applied for and received the license they needed to build and operate Strawbale Winery.

In 2005, the Souths constructed the production building with straw-compacted-panels. The tasting room and gift shop with the straw bale insulation was built in 2006.

Today, Strawbale Winery produces 30 wines made from locally grown winter hardy grapes, as well as local fruits and berries. They run the gamut from dry to sweet, and some will pleasantly surprise you.

Strawbale can also design custom labels for the wines of your choice. Logos, photos and designs can be made to personalize your bottles to use as gifts, wedding favors, or just for the fun of it.

Palate-Friendly Wines

Strawbale Winery produces, ferments, bottles and blends all its wines onsite. Grape varietals include Frontenac, Kay Gray, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and Valiant. If those names don’t mean a thing to you, they didn’t ring bells for me either. But the tasting we enjoyed was a true eye-opener.

A Tasting Tool at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

A Tasting Tool at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

It’s fortunate for me that I’m usually able to leave pre-conceived ideas at the door. This is especially true when I’m being hosted, and objectivity is essential in order to do my job. What I left behind before entering Strawbale Winery’s tasting room was the notion that good wine couldn’t possibly be produced in a place that gets as cold as South Dakota. I also abandoned my intense dislike for most sweet wines.

We began with Red Barn, a dry merlot-like wine, and it turned out to be the first of several surprises. The flavor was light and juicy, and it was smooth going down.

We then switched to four of Strawbale’s fruit wines. The Apple Raspberry Wine arrived warm with added spice mix and honey. In spite of the additions, the individual fruit flavors came through. I’ll bet a lot of this concoction is consumed during those long winters.

The Black Currant Wine was sweet. I expected it to be thin, but it was full bodied and the flavor was true. It would make a fine dessert wine.

It was easy to see why the semi-sweet Strawberry Rhubarb Wine is one of Strawbale’s most popular. The slightly tart finish contributed by the rhubarb kept the strawberry component from giving the wine too much sweetness. I could see myself drinking this wine chilled on a hot day.

My favorite of the fruit wines was Burning Bog. Fermented cranberries and jalapeños combined for a flavorful balance of sweet and tart with a slight back end kick. One sip, and I knew we would be taking a bottle back to New Bern.

Our final taste was an OMB (O My Berries) slush, a refreshing mixture of Wild Blueberry wine and strawberry margarita mix. This would make another fine, flavorful hot weather treat, but we both found it a bit too sweet for our palates.

Final Thoughts

Don with One of His Jumping Chickens at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

Don with One of His Jumping Chickens at Strawbale Winery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

While Simon photographed Don showing off his jumping chickens, I sat comfortably on the tasting room’s homey front porch with a sweet cat purring in my lap. It was easy to see why folks from Sioux Falls and surrounding areas enjoy spending time at Strawbale winery, for the wines, the jumping chickens and special events held at the winery during the warmer months.

The “Folk Off and Rib Challenge”, an all-day extravaganza featuring both a music and a BBQ competition is a family friendly event. “Twilight Flights” offers an evening of food, wine and a helicopter ride to savor the spectacular view of the Sioux Falls city lights. During the summer months, locals and tourists can enjoy “Summer Porch at the Winery”. There the talents of local artisans, musicians and chefs, accompanied by Strawbale’s impressive selection of wines, make every Thursday evening a special event..

Strawbale Winery definitely produces some delicious and unique wines. Add to the tasting experience friendly folks, jumping chickens and purring cats and you have an outstanding experience.

If You Go

Strawbale Winery is located a short 15 – 20 minute drive north from Sioux Falls.

Tasting Room Hours

May – September: Wednesday – Friday, noon – 6:00 PM, Saturday, 11:00 AM – 5 :00 PM and Sunday, noon – 4:00 PM
October – April: Thursday and Friday, noon – 6:00pm

Visit Strawbale Winery’s website for information on their selection of wines, and upcoming events.

Strawbale Winery
47215 257th St
Renner, SD 57055
(605) 543-5071

Disclaimer: Our visit to Strawbale Winery was made possible through the generosity of the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau  and the Winery. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

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