• PRAIRIE BERRY WINERY | OUR STORY •
This is the Prairie Berry story
In the Midwest, family tradition is something we hold dear. Stories, recipes, and traditions are passed down through the generations; celebrated and shared with neighbors and loved ones on occasions big and small, joyful and bittersweet.
Beyond the fruits and grapes woven into every bottle of wine Sandi produces are the stories of women breaking ground, stories of family, stories of place, and—of course—a little bit of South Dakota.
Our South Dakota roots run deep
Moravian homesteaders in Dakota Territory
January 1, 1876
Anna Pesa Vojta (center, back) first made wine in the "old country" before emigrating to Dakota Territory with her husband, Jon. They came from Moravia, Czechoslovakia, where a strong winemaking tradition still continues. Second generation, Frances Kalda (seated), grew up making wine with her mother, Josefa – also from Bohemia – in Dakota Territory before she met her husband-to-be, Thomas Vojta (seated)
Jon Vojta files homestead application for the Mound City farm
April 27, 1891
The Vojta family homesteaded near Mound City, Dakota Territory. Winemaking, pickling and other preserving methods were a means of saving the bounty of the summer for use in the harsh, cold winter months. What is now family tradition was originally just a way to survive when freezers, supermarkets, restaurants and electricity were a thing of the future.
Frances and Thomas marry
February 3, 1896
Frances Kalda and Thomas Vojta married in Tyndall, SD and started a family, having five children over the next eight years. Both the Vojta and the Kalda families had brought their winemaking supplies and tradition with them, but found only "prairie berries," chokecherries, buffaloberries, wild plums and currants, to make into wine. Anna and Frances made the wine, the children helped by picking fruit and the men crafted barrels from scrub oak trees that grew along the Missouri River.
Vojta family homestead near Mound City
January 1, 1906
The original family homestead near Mound City. Frank (born in 1896, holding the horse) was the third generation of Vojtas in South Dakota. His son, Ralph, and granddaughter, Sandi, started Prairie Berry winery more than 90 years later. Thomas (holding the bicycle) was Frank's father. The bicycle, ordered from Sears & Roebuck, was said to be the first bicycle in Cambell County.
Ralph, Sandi, and Prairie Berry's foundation
Ralph tastes his family's traditional wine
Novemeber 27, 1941
Ralph's grandmother, Frances, used her Czech crystal glasses brought from Europe to share a tiny taste of her chokecherry wine with Ralph and his siblings on Christmas and Thanksgiving. She would say in her thick accent, "Drink Ralphie, eetz good." He had helped pick the fruit ("prairie berries" as she always called them), and she wanted him to be proud of what they had made together.
Ralph joins the Coast Guard
July 6, 1952
After getting out of the Coast Guard, Ralph returned to South Dakota to raise his family. For years, the taste of his Grandmother Frances' chokecherry wine lingered in his memory and eventually he decided to try to make it himself.
Sandi starts making wine
January 1, 1976
Ralph and his daughter, Sandi, picked berries together. She loved to mix things and experiment, so Ralph let her have a bucket of juice and yeast and she made her own wine. She was allowed to taste the homemade wine at holidays and when she was sick.
The Winery's Humble Beginnings
Obtained commercial winery license
November 1, 1998
Prairie Berry was the second winery in the state to be awarded a commercial winery license, in late 1998.
Produced first commercial wine
January 1, 1999
Sandi started making wine on a commercial level in the basement of Ralph's house in Mobridge, S.D., completing her first commercial wine in 1999.
Prairie Berry releases Razzy Apple
January 1, 2000
Ralph and Sandi, shown in his Mobridge, S.D., basement with the first wine produced and bottled by Prairie Berry, Razzy Apple, a semi-sweet raspberry-apple wine. A handful of those original bottles remain. We don’t drink them, but they’ve christened openings and expansions as we’ve grown.
Prairie Berry Winery moves to Rapid City, South Dakota
January 1, 2001
The winery relocated from Mobridge to a storefront off Highway 79 just south of Rapid City. Ralph is shown here at one of the first Rapid City retailers that carried Prairie Berry wine.
Prairie Berry Winery starts small
January 1, 2002
In the early years, Sandi, her husband Matt, and Ralph were the whole staff. They worked long hours at whatever needed to be done, from picking fruit to washing bottles, and put most of the profits back into the business.
Expansion & Recognition
Prairie Berry Winery moves to Hill City
January 1, 2004
The winery and tasting room opened at its current location northeast of Hill City on Highway 385. We didn't QUITE make it by the original May 29 opening we promoted in the sign, but it wasn't too much longer.
Events room added
January 1, 2006
Prairie Berry's Tasting Room offerings were expanded with the addition of an events room for hosting meetings and parties.
Awarded for superior hospitality
January 22, 2009
Governor Mike Rounds presents Matt, Ralph, and Sandi with the George S. Mickelson Great Service Award in January 2009.
June 12, 2009
An expansion doubled the wine production capacity, with the specially-made 10,500 gallon tanks being craned into position before the roof could be put on the new area of the building.
2011 Heritage Family Business of the Year
April 3, 2011
Prairie Berry was honored to be recognized by the Prairie Family Business Association at the University of South Dakota’s Beacom School of Business.
Increased production capacity again
April 14, 2011
More tanks, more Red Ass Rhubarb.
Broke ground for another production expansion
August 2, 2012
With neighboring lands acquired and a land swap with the US Forest Service approved after many years in discussion, Matt and Sandi broke ground for the next expansion. It allows for some practical additions, like parking, but provides the potential for a lot of other exciting developments.
Remodeled Tasting Room
September 1, 2012
After eight years it was time for a facelift to tell our story better and create some additional space for our guests. Prairie Berry remodeled the tasting room, added an additional tasting counter and revamped the bathrooms. We like our donkey on the front sign, but it's nice to be able to identify ourselves as Prairie Berry, not just the Red Ass Rhubarb winery.
Opened The Homestead at Prairie Berry Winery
September 25, 2014
We opened The Homestead at Prairie Berry Winery in the summer of 2014 and celebrated the milestone with an official ribbon cutting in September 2014. Formerly Mistletoe Ranch of Hill City, the Homestead is our newest events space that offers rustic charm in the heart of the Black Hills.
Released Anna Pesä Wines
April 23, 2015
A ribbon cutting on April 23 at Prairie Berry Winery marked the official release of Anna Pesä wines. Anna Pesä wines are handcrafted from traditional European wine grapes at Prairie Berry Winery. They take Prairie Berry’s winemaking heritage back to where it began, with our fifth-generation winemaker Sandi Vojta’s great-great-grandmother, Anna Pesä.
1,000 awards...and counting
June 13, 2018
Prairie Berry Winery earns 10 awards at the Indy International Wine Competition, including gold medals for Calamity Jane and the 2017 vintage of Anna Pesä Louka, taking its award total past the 1,000 mark.
A year of anniversaries
January 1, 2019
Prairie Berry Winery celebrated its 20th anniversary throughout 2019, and the Gen5 Wine Club marked 10 years over the summer.