|Vineyard owners new members of Perkins County Chamber|
By Jan Goff
Because Keith County residents Jackie and Rod Hopken run so many errands in Perkins County, it only made sense that as owners of three businesses they become members of the Perkins County Chamber.
The couple was honored with a First Dollar plaque for their South Fork Vineyard during Chamber’s annual banquet last Thursday at Westview in Grant.
As grape growers and honey bee owners, the Hopkens were presented the plaque for the vineyard located within view of I-80 near Ogallala.
Their 23-acre vineyard includes French-American hybrid wine grapes, 15 varieties of seedless table grapes, a variety of other small fruits and honey products from their own apiary where they provide home grown, home spun honey and education to tourists.
The property, which includes a pergola and gazebo, can be rented for parties, reunions, picnics and weddings.
During the summer, those taking tours can learn about growing grapes and other fruits, as well as gain knowledge about Nebraska’s state insect from the honey house. Visitors can enjoy birds, butterflies and insects, fly kites in the meadow, or settle in for a picnic and some relaxation.
The first shipment of grapevines which arrived May 1, 2000 were planted the next day, and the business has expanded since then, to the point of yearly tours for garden club members and school children, fund raising events for charity, and educational tours of the spot where three historical trails pass through—the Oregon Trail, California Trail and the Pony Express.
“Our tours provide something for this area that not every community has,” said the Hopkens. “We feel that we may be even one-of-a-kind, in our being an attraction that would bring tourists off of the interstate and into the local community where they might shop, eat and spend the night. We want to share this experience with people from all around the world by providing an outdoor place for gatherings of all sizes, from the honeymoon couple to bus tours and large parties.
Honey is one of the items offered at South Fork Vineyard’s gift shop where gourmet gift baskets can be assembled for any occasion from a selection of raw or creamed honey made with real berries and cinnamon, lip balm, hand balm, body bee balm, soaps, and long-burning, no-drip natural fragrance colored honeycomb candles. The director of the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism has declared South Fork’s honey the best he has ever had.
An all-volunteer crew comes together for grape harvest, “Where their only pay is getting together, having a fun time, eating a big family style meal, and going home with stained fingers.”
Grapes are shipped to Nebraska wineries to be blended into Nebraska wines, some are made into jams and jellies, and some are eaten by the handfuls.
“In the summertime, we have the most awesome table grapes you can find anywhere,” said Jackie.
In addition to their vineyard, the couple each has another business—Jackie has been the owner of a cleaning service for over 30 years. Rod began working with his father’s contsruction business, EJ Hopken and Sons, at the age of 11. Upon his father’s death, he renamed it RLH Construction in 2003.
With summer’s arrival, the couple invites residents of the community to visit and enjoy the many amenities offered at South Fork Vineyard, 845 Road East D, Ogallala.