Our Story

The First Winery in South Dakota

The Nygaard history of pioneer family winemaking dates to 1850 when Eldon Nygaard’s great-great-grandfather, Christian F. Gossmann, immigrated from Germany to America’s Midwest. The German side of the Nygaard Family had a history of making homemade wines from elderberries, apples, and wild grapes.

Eldon’s first wine was made from mulberries picked on the family farm in Turner County, South Dakota, in 1961. In 1993, the Nygaard Family planted a test plot of grapes on their farm in Turner County. Dr. Ann Fennel of South Dakota State University (SDSU) assisted in selecting cold-hardy varieties, including the Valiant grape propagated by Dr. Ronald Peterson of SDSU.

Eldon Nygaard

By 1996, it was evident that wine grapes could be grown in Turner County, so the next step was to create enabling legislation to license wineries in South Dakota. Eldon Nygaard was a professor of political science at the University of South Dakota at the time. He wrote the farm winery legislation that became the Farm Winery Act. The Nygaard family traveled to Pierre in January and February of 1996 to testify for the passage of the South Dakota Farm Winery Bill that became law on July 1, 1996.

South Dakota’s First Winery

Eldon Nygaard fermented South Dakota’s first commercial wine in July 1996 after Valiant Vineyards was awarded Bonded Winery License BW-SD-1. Thus, they became the founding family of the South Dakota commercial wine industry.

A Family Approach To Winemaking

The whole family was involved in the winemaking process in the beginning. Eldon and Sherry’s children, Leif and Jeanette, had jobs ranging from working in the vineyard to sanitizing wine bottles for the bottling process. Leif Nygaard began making wine by the time he was eighteen, making him a sixth-generation American winemaker.

Valiant Vineyards, Inc. was incorporated on March 27, 2000, and the 15,000-square-foot winery and specialty resort were completed in December 2000. The Corporation operates Valiant Vineyards Winery at Buffalo Run Resort, 1500 W. Main Street, Vermillion, South Dakota. The business offers a tasting room, bed and breakfast, private luncheons and dinners, and unique event rooms, in addition to its production and sale of wine.

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