Exploring Nebraska’s wines

Nebraska might not be the first location that springs to mind for excellent wine, but do not sleep on your home state, oenophiles. Per Kathi Schildt, Executive Director of the Nebraska Winery & Grape Growers Association, local vintners have been in pursuit of enological success for over 25 years. 

The unique terroir in the Midwest is well suited to myriad fruit crops, but Edelweiss, a grape varietal created by Elmer Swenson in Minnesota in the late 1970s, is the most common grown in Nebraska. Depending on the winemaker, resultant flavors range from tart to sweet, exceedingly bright and refreshing in sweltering summer months.

Wine connoisseurs who lament the fact that Nebraska has no decent reds might want to give them another sip. The French hybrid De Chaunac lends itself to full-bodied, well-balanced wines, but can be a bit fussy in frigid weather, so vintage matters. St. Croix is another Swenson hybrid bred for the Midwest; wines made from this grape benefit from a bit of oak-barrel aging, making them even more palatable for red wine afficionados. 

To encourage exploration of local wines, the association prints a Wine Passport each year, making it available for free at nearly 30 participating wineries (most of which craft wines containing a minimum of 60% Nebraska-grown products) and tasting rooms throughout the state. 

The 2021 version features a red cover, and it’s perfectly pocket-sized for tucking into your purse or car cubby on your quest for culinary adventure. Many establishments offer flights or tastings, and most have lovely spaces full of personality in which you can relax and enjoy a glass or bottle with a friend. At year’s end, mail in the stamp page for prizes and swag including t-shirts, wine tumblers, wine bucks and more (but keep the book as reference for future forays).

In 2021, the association plans to host two festival events, as well as one or two in conjunction with the Nebraska Game and Parks 100-year anniversary. The first, Toast Nebraska, is scheduled for early summer, and a second Holiday festival for later in the year.

Schildt encourages locals and tourists to experience and celebrate all the state has to offer, using the passport as a guide, “You will be pleasantly surprised by our award-winning wines, beautiful venues, and educational, fun events.” Visit for more information.

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