North Dakota Grows: Lisa, Greg, and 4e Winery

We’ve got our ion 4e Winery – a husband-and-wife team who have combined a love of chemistry and North Dakota to create an experience of white, red, and non-grape wines “born of the prairie.”

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After home-brewing wine for nearly two decades, Lisa and Greg Cook officially opened their 12-acre Fargo/Casselton-based farmstead and vineyards to the public in 2015, and have been serving up home-grown and hand-filtered happiness ever since.

The wonderful Lisa has kindly offered up her thoughts on how she and her husband – Dr. Cook teaches Organic Chemistry at North Dakota State University – are in their element celebrating the flavors and people of North Dakota:

Tell us about 4e Winery.

We feel honored to be able to share our little piece of North Dakota heritage with our guests.  Nothing makes us happier than watching the stress fall away as someone sits on our deck with a glass of wine and a friend.

Our winery is located on a century-old farmstead just southeast of the Casselton exit of I-94.  Our tasting room is open from late April or May, depending on the weather through the end of October.  We have had visitors from many states, and even other countries.  We get lots of visitors for whom this is their first visit to North Dakota not to mention their first visit to a North Dakota winery.  The majority of our visitors are from the FM area.  We love welcoming new visitors, but our repeat visitors have a special place in our hearts.  We have made good friends with people we have met first at the winery.  We also love the fact that more and more local folks – we call them our rural Cass neighbors – are coming out on a Friday night to sit out on the deck and enjoy a glass of wine or some of our signature sangria.

We were originally going to be 4 Elements Winery – an attempt to combine Greg’s career teaching Chemistry and the 4 Greek elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air – but about a week before we opened our doors in July of 2015 we received a cease-and-desist order from a large wine conglomerate who owned the trademark for Elements when uses in conjunction with wine.  We dropped the Elements, kept the E, and it has been a great conversation starter for us – and it looks much better on a t-shirt!

Tell us about winemaking in North Dakota.  

Our wines are meant to represent the flavors of our region, whether that be the rhubarb you dipped in sugar as a kid, the wild plums you ate off the trees in the shelter belt, your grandma’s version of chokecherry wine, or, more recently, the hybrid grapes that we are now able to grow in the upper Midwest.  We don’t bring in grapes or juice from California, for instance, but source our fruit from as close to home as we can.  Almost all of our fruit comes from North Dakota, and the grapes that we don’t grow ourselves currently come from within 150 miles of the winery.

The typical vinifera grape – such as the Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay grape – cannot survive the brutal cold of our winters here in the upper Midwest.  Grapes that will survive – such as wild grapes or table grapes developed for our climate – may not be ideal for making wine.  Fortunately, cold climate, or hybrid, grapes have become available, spurring the growth of the wine industry in North Dakota.  Research done at the University of Minnesota, and more recently at North Dakota State University, as well as some private breeders, has brought us grapes that will both withstand our winters AND produce amazing wines.  Some of the first varieties were Frontenac, Marquette, and La Crescent, while more recent varieties are Petite and Crimson Pearl and Itasca.

Our biggest grape challenge currently is sourcing grapes that are grown in North Dakota.  While there are some established vineyards in North Dakota, most of their grapes are not being sold commercially.  More vines are being planted every year, but it takes at a least four years for the vines to even start producing enough fruit to make the amount of wine we need to make so it is going to take quite a few years before we can source the majority of our grapes from North Dakota.  That being said, the grapes in our wine are grown within 150 miles of the winery.  They just happen to from the other side of the river, in Minnesota.  The grapes we source in Minnesota are actually more similar in terroir to the Red River Valley than grapes that are grown in western North Dakota.

How does Greg’s chemistry background benefit your process?  

We like to say making wine is both an art and a science.  Greg’s chemistry background is helpful for the science part but it’s his little bit of wine wizardry that makes our wines come alive.

And, as a married couple – what is your secret recipe for working together?

Stay as far away from each other as possible?  Just kidding.  Although it can sometimes be a challenge, both living and working together, coming together to create our dream makes it all worth it.  We both have our specialties.  Greg is the winemaker and I concentrate more on the tasting room and the marketing, but neither one of us could do what we do without the other.

What’s the best part of working for 4e Winery?  

The best part of working at the winery are the people.  We meet so many great folks – both neighbors and visitors to our state.   One thing of which we never tire is the magic of what we call the North Dakota three-degrees of separation. Almost every day we watch people run into their friends at the winery, or strike up a conversation with another guest who just happens to be from their hometown and discover that their sister was an old babysitter.  🙂

Tell us about your connection to North Dakota.  

We are both originally from Michigan, but my husband’s first job in academia brought us to Fargo in 1996.  When he got his first interview, he called me (this was way before texting was a thing) to ask if I wanted to live in Fargo.  I actually had to look it up on a map.  This was also the same year that the movie Fargo was released.  As we were moving from California, I got quite a bit of ribbing from friends about our move, but we’ve been here ever since, and we don’t regret it.  We moved here in July of 1996, just in time for the blizzards of ’96 and the floods of ’97, and the weather has only gotten better from there!

We like to say that a job brought us to North Dakota but the people keep us here.  We have also learned to find real beauty in the North Dakota landscapes.  You have to look a little harder, but it’s there.  There is nowhere else on earth that can beat our big skies!

Why is North Dakota quality important to you? 

We are passionate about promoting North Dakota products and North Dakota people, so much so that our tagline is “Drink Local – Drink North Dakota.”

What do you see coming up next for 4e Winery?

We are always excited to open the tasting room every spring, introducing new wines and bringing back the favorites.  We rolling out a new white wine blend this spring called “Prairie Breeze.”  We think it will become a new favorite.  We are also planning for our second annual “Maker’s Market @ 4e Winery” which will take place again in August.  This market features all kinds of makers of craft, food, and, of course, wine in the fun and relaxing atmosphere of the winery.  Last year’s market was so successful we decided we had to do it again this year.

[From Amanda: While you can purchase wines from 4e Winery all year round on their website here, they open their doors in late May/early April for tastings, events (they have a lovely event space above the tasting room that is perfect for bridal showers, birthday or anniversary parties, or even very small weddings), or for anyone who just wants to come and relax on the deck with a picnic and a glass of wine. 

They are also in the process of returning several of their acres to natural prairie to provide a habitat for birds and pollinators – an area which is available to guests looking for a beautiful place to stroll.  4e Winery will be open Friday – Sunday before Memorial Day, and Thursday – Sunday between Memorial and Labor Day – check out their Facebook page for exact hours.]

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