LINCOLN – The new NET documentary “Savor: Nebraska Craft Wine” uncorks the story of an ancient industry that is flourishing in Nebraska.
It premieres at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 2 on NET, Nebraska’s PBS and NPR stations.
Some wine enthusiasts believe good wine only comes from California or Europe, but Nebraska producers have joined a growing group of Midwest vintners who are turning that idea on its head. With nearly 40 wineries in the state, the impact on the state’s economy has soared as producers in all areas of Nebraska pioneer their brands.
“We have had very, very good success with a range of grape cultivars that respond very well to Nebraska’s soils and climate. And of course in the hands of a good winemaker, they come out very high quality wines,” said Paul Read, professor of agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Savor: Nebraska Craft Wine” explores the history of Nebraska wine making, the people who make it their life’s work and how to pair meals with the state’s best bottles. The new NET documentary offers a taste of the industry from several Nebraska wineries, including James Arthur Vineyards in Raymond, Niobrara Valley Vineyards in Nenzel and Deer Springs Winery near Lincoln.
James Arthur Vineyards was one of the first vineyards in the state.
“Everything we created was kind of a hobby to begin with that got a little out of control,” explained Jim Ballard, owner and winemaker at the vineyard.
The signature grape at James Arthur Vineyards is Edelweiss, a Minnesota varietal that is one of the most popular in Nebraska.
At Niobrara Valley Vineyards, wine pairs with cattle ranching. “The history of our winery probably starts with a passion, I guess, for trying to make a living in rural Nebraska,” said owner Greg Nollette. Niobrara Valley Vineyards began by growing grapes on a small number of acres, and expanded into making wine.
Near Lincoln, Deer Springs Winery owner Jim Partington retired from the Navy, returned home to the farmstead that had been in his family for four generations and got his family involved in the wine business.
“There’s just so much about wine, there’s so much history and mythology even, and all kinds of aspects to wine that just draws people together and who doesn’t think it’s fun to just sit with friends and have a bottle of wine?” said Jen Reeder, a winemaker at Deer Springs.
“Savor: Nebraska Craft Wine” examines history that shows early settlers who came from cultures where wine was included as part of their meals were the first to cultivate grapes in Nebraska. “Prior to the early 1900s there were probably several thousand acres of grapes in Nebraska,” explained Read.
Beginning in 1920, however, prohibition prohibited the production, marketing or selling of alcoholic beverages. Sixty-five years later, former state senator Sandra Scofield of Chadron introduced a legislative bill that allowed for the establishment of wineries in Nebraska by increasing production of wine from 200 gallons a year to 50,000 gallons.
“Savor: Nebraska Craft Wine” repeats on NET at 5 p.m., Sunday, May 5; 9 p.m., Monday, May 6; and 5 p.m., Saturday, May 11. It repeats on NET’s World Channel at 8:30 a.m., Thursday, May 16.