Saturday and Sunday, visitors to Buffalo Run Winery enjoyed wine tasting, tours, cooking demonstrations, grape stomping, music, and food and crafts vendors. With three South Dakota wineries represented, and a host of locally made products available, the event easily drew in a few hundred people, including at least one busload
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"So far, it's been great," said Jim Schmidt, who accompanied Bernice Arendt around to the various tables offering wine tasting. The Sioux Falls friends arrived Saturday on a bus trip specially organized for the event.
"We love to do wineries," Schmidt said, recalling a recent trip to Minnesota and describing a future vacation in Europe. "It's fun to go, look around, taste and buy a little wine."
So far, their favorite of the day was a raspberry wine made by Schad� Vineyard in Volga. But the couple still had two wineries to go on their tasting venture: Buffalo Run and Spearfish's Black Hills, so another wine could have easily toppled the raspberry champion by the end of the day.
"Some we like and some we don't," Schmidt said, taking a sip of white wine from his complimentary wine glass. "But we tend to like our wine a little sweeter."
Enjoying drier wines, Mart and Kovarna said nothing could beat a good merlot, although Schad�'s chokecherry, Black Hills' rhubarb and Buffalo Run's Wild Grape or Freeman Red could easily come in second place.
"We talked about coming last year, but all we ever did was talk," Kovarna said. "Then, this year, we decided to actually come. And we're glad we did. We both really like wine."
The two friends also enjoyed the benefits of standing in the front row of Saturday's noon cooking demonstration, where they were able to partake in one of Buffalo Run's creations: Gorgonzola and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms, made by the winery's executive chef Annie Walker.
Walker, a Vermillion native and University of South Dakota nursing student, had only one tip for onlookers, which she gave while pouring several gulps of a sweet red wine into a skillet of saut�ed onions and spinach: "Wine can add a lot of flavor to any recipe. Remember that recipes aren't necessarily correct; if I were to follow a cookbook recipe step by step, a lot of times it wouldn't turn out right. You need to modify them to your own needs, and if you enjoy wine, that's a great way to spice up almost any dish."
Kovarna and Mart didn't stop with Walker's cooking demonstration. One of their favorite activities of the day was traditional grape stomping.
Side by side, the two kicked off their sandals and stepped into a wooden half-barrel filled with dark purple grapes, and started stomping. While the juice wasn't used for wine, a photo of the women might have ended up on their favorite bottle of wine.
"It was awesome, very therapeutic. The only bad part is," Kovarna said, looking at the soles of her feet, "your feet turn purple."
But that isn't much of a complaint, Mart said. "The whole day is fun and I would definitely recommend it."
That's what Buffalo Run owner Eldon Nygaard was hoping to hear. After making some changes to the schedule after last year's event, he said he was pleased with this year's success.
"Last year, it was a nice start to the event, but the timing was weak because it was right after Labor Day and people didn't feel like going out to another event," Nygaard said. "This (year's event) has good timing. Plus, people are looking for things to do closer to home because of the gas crunch. I think the word had gotten out that it was such a good time last year (that) we're having a banner turnout this year."
Besides providing a marketing opportunity for the South Dakota wine industry, Nygaard said he wants to use the wine festival to help promote Vermillion. He thinks that combining the festival with the city's celebration helped to bring in more people to Vermillion from the surrounding area.
"I want to create a signature event for regional wine tasting," Nygaard said. "We've got Dakota Days, which is a big deal. And Danish Days, Schmeckfest and Riverboat Days are all important for this area. But Vermillion is on the move; it's growing. Yankton's Riverboat Days is great, and I want Vermillion to have an event like that, too."