Dakota Hills Winery an agritourism destination

Lisa Jager -
Journal Staff Writer
Dakota Hills Winery in Knox, N.D., sells 32 varieties of wine and hosts approximately 4,000 visitors each year.

Author Frances Mayes best-selling book "Under the Tuscan Sun" along with the movie of the same name featured the picturesque rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy, where many varieties of grapes are grown and world-class wine produced.

Although North Dakota and fine wines aren't top of mind among wine aficionados, there are some wineries sprinkled throughout North Dakota that have attracted interest and accolades both locally and worldwide.

One such winery is the Dakota Hills Winery, near Knox, N.D.

Some 10 years ago, owners Brian Cochran and his wife Loveta retired from dairy farming in Washington and moved to North Dakota, where they acquired the Knox property.

Shortly thereafter they began growing fruit, including raspberries, Juneberries, chokecherries and grapes and launched a wine-making operation. A couple of years later, they constructed a winery building, and in 2005 they opened up their property to the public.

Cochran says they sell out of their 32 varieties of wine each year and attract approximately 4,000 visitors each year from around the world.

He said international visitors have ranged from priests from France to Germans from the wine Rhine region to a researcher who spent time in Antarctica, which allows Dakota Winery to claim they have had visitors from all seven continents.

Cochran says what turned out to be one very special visitor was an engineer from Ghana, West Africa.

The engineer was studying in North Dakota when he visited Dakota Hills Winery. In a conversation during his visit, the engineer told Cochran, who served as a missionary in Ghana, the name of his hometown, which turned out to be the same town where Cochran lived as a missionary. In fact, Cochran discovered he had actually lived in the engineer's grandfather's house and shared a picture with the engineer of his missionary days that included the engineer as a young boy.

Building a rapport with visitors is key to making an agritourism destination a success, Cochran says. He added that it's not necessary to add a new element, such as wine making, to your current agricultural operation in order to host visitors.

"Look at your operation through someone else's eyes outside North Dakota," he said, "and use your own talents and resources to make your traditional farm work."