At 57 Randy Albrecht officially retired, the first time. However, you need not spend a lot of time around Mr. Albrecht to know that one of those “sit by the lake fishing with your feet up” retirements was not going to work. His lake is home located on the shores of Lake Sakakawea near the Wolf Creek Game Management area, and just across the bay from Mallard Island, a true island created when Lake Sakakawea filled behind the Garrison Dam in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Randy had experimented with making hobby wines for 25 to 30 years, and soon his love of the craft of wine making, and the desire to produce more than just a few bottles here and there, created what was to become Wolf Creek Winery, largely run out of the basement of his home on Wolf Creek. Today Wolf Creek winery produces around 2,000 gallons of wine a year, and for those of your who are wondering “our goal is 10,000 bottles a year in our current location” according to Randy. But the big news is that Wolf Creek Winery is building a new facility, complete with wine production area, offices, small vineyard and a sampling and retail sales area in Coleharbor, ND, “when we get to the new place, with additional equipment, we’ll be able to do up to 10,000 gallons a year.”
It was 2012 when Randy started Wolf Creek Winery, partly because of some health issues. “I had been doing radiation treatments, and my doctor told me I had to get my blood going.” The options were drink a little bit of red wine or eat liver. “Liver was OK, but within a few hours of Rochester, Minnesota, there were about 30 different wineries” and through day trips to some of the wineries Randy gained a fascination for the production of wine.
“We had apples and we had chokecherries by the lake, and we had plums, so I started making hobby wines” said Randy. About that time Randy’s life would take a turn, and he would be able to retire from the job he had at the time. For a short time, he continued to consult, but
“I if I was going to be retired I wanted to do something I liked” and then he says with a chuckle “and I tell people I’ve never worked so hard for so little and had so much fun.”
2012 would be the first year of being a commercial winery “and we put out about 200 gallons. We did very few shows, but at the end of the season we did the Dickens (Village Festival in Garrison), and I don’t think we had a case of wine left” according to Randy. The next year Wolf Creek Winery doubled production and “as we got more involved, we tried to build our brand” he said, “we feel we are a boutique winter, and we want our wines to be quality.”
The success of good wine seems to come from the ability to get good fruit, and for Wolf Creek Winery their success also comes from being “very fussy about where we get our fruit. We try to make our wine as good as the fruit will make it. We won’t take fruit unless it is coming from a grower because we don’t know what non-grower fruit has been treated with. It takes good fruit to make good wine, and we are really particular about who we are working with.”
Wolf Creek Winery produces wine pretty much every day. The size of the tanks they use has increased over the years going from smaller 25 gallon tanks to their now 260 gallon tanks housed in a garage adjacent to their home.
For a winery the size of Wolf Creek there isn’t enough fruit in North Dakota. “We go through 20,000 pounds plus of fruit each year. One of the favorite grapes is the Marquette grape. “But there are some years when we can only source enough for 80 gallons, and when that’s gone, it’s gone. We have to wait another year.” Wolf Creek Winery uses as much local fruit as they can, doing more grapes than fruit.
On the local side they use rhubarb, apples and Aronia berries “as we can access as much of those fruits as we need. We are fortunate that we have a local Aronia grower just outside of Underwood.” Wines like Cabernet and Moscato require fruit from other sources in other states “we bring those grapes in from Washington state” according to Randy.
Wolf Creek Winery gives a 10% military discount, something that is important to them as recognition for those who serve and who have served. “Darcy’s (Hardy) Dad was in Korea, and my Dad was in the Army National Guard. He served until he had to retire. He truly believed in the military and the service and retired as a Sergeant Major.”
As far as being a local wine, local to North Dakota, Randy explains “the entire process takes place here from start to finish. The grapes that we can source locally, we do that. The majority of what we use here comes from North Dakota and Minnesota.” But as Wine Creek grows, so will their need for additional fruit. “We tell people you can’t grow a Cabernet grape here, but when you purchase a Wolf Creek Cabernet it’s made right here. It’s made our way here.”
Soon Wolf Creek Winery will have a new home, and Randy Albrecht will be able to give tours of their production area and let people taste their product before the make a purchase. Some of that is done now at shows that Wolf Creek Winery attend.
For Randy, it’s the perfect retirement job, albeit, even Randy will admit that it’s sometimes a bit more than what he had thought it would be. But in Randy’s own words “I may as well retire to doing something I like, right?” We couldn’t agree more.