BRANDON, S.D. — They call them Harvest Hosts — the latest wrinkle in agritourism that brings recreational vehicle travelers to their venues, often as a way to add value to their specialty crop or value-added ventures.

Harvest Hosts LLCis a membership organization for self-contained “boondocking” RV travelers,  in which the visitor expects to patronize a winery or some other value-added enterprise. Logo image from Harvest Host website, July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Harvest Host / Agweek
Harvest Hosts LLCis a membership organization for self-contained “boondocking” RV travelers, in which the visitor expects to patronize a winery or some other value-added enterprise. Logo image from Harvest Host website, July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Harvest Host / Agweek

Victoria Wilde and her husband, Jeff, operate Wilde Prairie Winery near Brandon, S.D. They say the Harvest Host program brings two or three customers per night, about eight miles northeast of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Jeff and Victoria Wilde, who operate Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., say they’ve been a rural cooperator with the Harvest Host “boondocking” subscription organization for several years, and have enjoyed the add-on to their typical clientele. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Jeff and Victoria Wilde, who operate Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., say they’ve been a rural cooperator with the Harvest Host “boondocking” subscription organization for several years, and have enjoyed the add-on to their typical clientele. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Wildes are cooperators with the membership organization that was created in 2010 and expanded since 2018 when it was purchased by Joel Holland, a technology CEO based in Vail, Colo. Today, the organization lists nearly 2,500 hosts, including dozens in the Dakotas, Minnesota and surrounding states.

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Wilde Prairie Winery has benefitted from a relationship with  Harvest Hosts, a subscription organization that links self-contained RV travelers with farms, rural value-added businesses and museums. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Wilde Prairie Winery has benefitted from a relationship with Harvest Hosts, a subscription organization that links self-contained RV travelers with farms, rural value-added businesses and museums. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Visitors using Harvest Host are all “boondocking,” a term that’s come into vogue for RV campers that are completely self-contained — equipped with electricity, water and sewage capacity. Most campers can go two weeks before refilling fresh water or dumping holding tanks.

“With limited international travel options pushing Americans toward more domestic vacations, Harvest Hosts not only offers out-of-the-ordinary RV stays, but it also helps members avoid parking issues in a now more crowded landscape,” said Travel + Leisure, a travel industry magazine.

Campers become members and pay a fee to the organization.

From left: Seth and Mary Hughes, Sammamish, Wash., on July 1, 2021, chat with Liz and Steve Madison of Bridgeville, Del., at the Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D. -- one of 2,500 host locations for the Harvest Host organization that arranges “boondocking” visits around North America.
Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
From left: Seth and Mary Hughes, Sammamish, Wash., on July 1, 2021, chat with Liz and Steve Madison of Bridgeville, Del., at the Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D. -- one of 2,500 host locations for the Harvest Host organization that arranges “boondocking” visits around North America. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

They receive a listing of Harvest Host venues — wineries, breweries, alpaca farms, even city halls or pioneer museums and lavender fields.

‘Very inviting’

On July 1, 2021, the Wildes hosted three visitors, ranging from the East to West coasts.

The Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., offers a gracious, rustic wine tasting experience for clientele that includes guests from Coast to Coast through the Harvest Host subscription organization for RV travelers who are self-contained. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., offers a gracious, rustic wine tasting experience for clientele that includes guests from Coast to Coast through the Harvest Host subscription organization for RV travelers who are self-contained. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

From the East were Liz and Steve Madison from Delaware. They are retired from the Department of Defense and were on a 10-week trip in their 39-foot rig. They swung through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and turned north and east into Utah, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

Liz said she learned about Harvest Host a few weeks ago.

Liz Madison, a retired Department of Defense employee, now living at Bridgeville, Del., on July 1, 2021, photographs grapes growing at the Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., one of 2,500 Harvest Hosts host locations in rural North America. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Liz Madison, a retired Department of Defense employee, now living at Bridgeville, Del., on July 1, 2021, photographs grapes growing at the Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., one of 2,500 Harvest Hosts host locations in rural North America. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“Very inviting,” she said, between visits with neighbors and photography. Wilde Prairie Winery’s setting is a farmstead with a large white, dairy barn built in 1911 as a centerpiece. The former hay mow is now a grand tasting room.

“It’s beautiful here — the fields behind, the grapes beside,” Liz enthused. “Everywhere you look, there’s beauty.”

The Madisons bought six bottles of wine, which would equal the cost of camping in other places.

“It’s so worth it, and we’re certainly not obligated to do that,” she said. She said she was already looking for the next place, in Kansas.

From the West Coast were Seth Hughes, his wife, Mary, and daughter Isabel, 14, and son Ethan, 12. They were traveling in an Airstream camper from Sammamish, Wash., on their ways to visit family in Ohio and Michigan. Seth works in the recreation equipment business and Mary is a teacher.

“A co-worker told me about Harvest Host,” Seth said. “They said it was a fantastic opportunity to get out and meet other people and stay in non-normal RV parks and go and meet people across the country,” he said. It typically costs $50 to $100 per night (or more) to camp in standard commercial campgrounds, if there are a “ton of amenities.”

“Coming here, meeting people at this establishment and spending time and money with them feels — I don’t know — feels better than spending money at some public water park or place that has RVs,” he said.

The Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., offers a gracious, rustic wine tasting experience for clientele that includes guests from Coast to Coast through the Harvest Host subscription organization for RV travelers who are self-contained. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., offers a gracious, rustic wine tasting experience for clientele that includes guests from Coast to Coast through the Harvest Host subscription organization for RV travelers who are self-contained. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Harvest Host way

According to Harvest Host website, memberships are $99 per year, although occasional discounts or sales occur. They run 365 days from joining. The organization has a free mobile app, interactive maps, detailed trip routing and planning, and search tools to find hosts near a destination.

There are more than 2,500 Harvest Host locations across the country and into Canada. The purple pins represent farms; reds are wineries; orange are rural museums. Image from Harvest Host website, July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Harvest Host / Agweek
There are more than 2,500 Harvest Host locations across the country and into Canada. The purple pins represent farms; reds are wineries; orange are rural museums. Image from Harvest Host website, July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Harvest Host / Agweek

Each host has an information page with contact details. Reservations are made 24 hours to two weeks or even months prior to a stay. About 45% of the sites are not alcohol related. Most of the wineries and breweries have food, gifts and other options. (The Wildes offer snacks — cheese, bison sticks — made in South Dakota.)

The organization publicly shares general locations but not particulars to avoid the awkward situations of hosts having to turn away people who aren’t in the program, or somehow think they have full hookup RV locations.

Harvest Hosts at Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D., can hold several self-contained RVs and campers, overlooking their grapes, flanked by farmland. Sometimes must limit numbers if conditions are wet. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Harvest Hosts at Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D., can hold several self-contained RVs and campers, overlooking their grapes, flanked by farmland. Sometimes must limit numbers if conditions are wet. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Harvest Hosts are intended for overnight stays — a maximum of 24 hours. Visitors arrive during business hours. Hosts can invite visitors for longer stays, but visitors are not to ask for extended stays. Most are pet-friendly, with leashes and individual host rules.

Most don’t have electrical hookups. Visitors can use generators with permission when making reservations. All RV classes (Classes A, B and C) and motorhomes are allowed. Wilde Prairie Winery had three 45-footers on an evening when they had seven all together. “Thank goodness we have a lot of space,” she said.

Pop-up campers and tents are prohibited. Camper vans, clamshell and teardrop trailers are allowed, but with no outdoor cooking. Toilets must be interior and gray water dumping is prohibited.

A Wilde ride

New Harvest Host members from Delaware and Washington states were enjoying the conviviality of a wine tasting supplied by Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D., on July 1, 2021. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
New Harvest Host members from Delaware and Washington states were enjoying the conviviality of a wine tasting supplied by Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D., on July 1, 2021. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Harvest Host approached the Wildes about seven years ago. The previous owners had seen the concept done in Europe. Initially, part of the concept was that visitors would help out with whatever the Wildes were working on.

The organization suggests that their traveler-subscribers spend money. The Wildes charge nothing for people to park, but there is an assumption that they'll spend money.

In this case, that’s wine.

Wilde Prairie wines are 100% from South Dakota, with novelty locals -- rhubarb-strawberry wine, “HEY Sugar.” Rhubarb-raspberry  wine is “Rhuberry.” Their cider is called “Born in the Barn.” Most Harvest Host visitors buy about  $40 to $50 in products, says Victoria Wilde, an owner of Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D. Their products almost 100% from South Dakota, or local. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Wilde Prairie wines are 100% from South Dakota, with novelty locals -- rhubarb-strawberry wine, “HEY Sugar.” Rhubarb-raspberry wine is “Rhuberry.” Their cider is called “Born in the Barn.” Most Harvest Host visitors buy about $40 to $50 in products, says Victoria Wilde, an owner of Wilde Prairie Winery of Brandon, S.D. Their products almost 100% from South Dakota, or local. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
“If we had harvest going on, a festival going on, they would come and help,” she said. "And of course they would buy wine. That would take the place of them paying to park. Plus, we have such a beautiful place that people like to be here. It’s away from the regular campgrounds.”

The Wildes don’t see the “helping” as a big part of the Harvest Host experience. Once in awhile, someone will pitch in.

There are a few who don’t spend money. But there are others who “go out with cases” of wine, so it “averages out really well,” she said. “I think the average is about $40 to $50, if you average out all of our sales for Harvest Host.”

The Wildes’ capacity is up to eight units.

“We take three (reservations) to start with and start watching the weather,” she said. “If its muddy, some of the heavier rigs sink into our field.”

The upper “hay mow” level of the Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., is decorated with an array of Americana items for visitors to enjoy, while shopping and doing tastings. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The upper “hay mow” level of the Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., is decorated with an array of Americana items for visitors to enjoy, while shopping and doing tastings. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

SD-CA-SD homing

Jeff Wilde was born in South Dakota and moved to California. Victoria studied business in college, but took grape growing and wine making. Jeff was an engineer. After college, they both worked at a company that makes pumps for the oil industry.

In 1991, Jeff moved back to the Brandon area and took a job as a plant manager for the city of Sioux Falls, S.D. Victoria joined him in 1992 and worked for Sanford Wellness Center as a fitness instructor, where she still works.

They lived on a 75-acre former dairy farm.

Wilde Prairie Winery was licensed for making and bottling wine in 2004. It includes 75 acres, featuring a dairy barn built in 1911 and 2,000 grape vines. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Wilde Prairie Winery was licensed for making and bottling wine in 2004. It includes 75 acres, featuring a dairy barn built in 1911 and 2,000 grape vines. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

In 1997, they planted some grapes. In 2004, they were licensed in South Dakota and federally to start Wilde Prairie Winery. There were five licensed operations in the state, some with two licenses. Today they there are 25 licenses throughout South Dakota.

Wilde Prairie Winery employs barrels with “hybrid heads” -- French oak heads and Minnesota oak staves. “The oak really makes your wine change and taste different. It gives you the oaky flavor and tannins. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Wilde Prairie Winery employs barrels with “hybrid heads” -- French oak heads and Minnesota oak staves. “The oak really makes your wine change and taste different. It gives you the oaky flavor and tannins. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Wildes have about 3 acres of grapes — about 2,000 vines. The Wildes' two seasonal employees work the vines and store. They grow varietals including Marechal Foch, Marquette, Valiant and Frontenac for the reds, and Brianna and LaCrescent for their whites.

Valient grapes were doing well as of July 1, 2021, despite general lack of rain. Grapes produce fuller flavor when they are somewhat stressed, said Jeff Wilde, who owns Wilde Prairie Winery with his wife, Victoria. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Valient grapes were doing well as of July 1, 2021, despite general lack of rain. Grapes produce fuller flavor when they are somewhat stressed, said Jeff Wilde, who owns Wilde Prairie Winery with his wife, Victoria. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
They also have 15 beef cows on 75 acres, which includes pasture, and receive cash rent for other crops, including soybeans this year. They have an orchard with South Dakota wild plums, sand cherries and chokecherries and apricots. They get their cider apples from a nearby orchard.

Victoria Wilde says the Wilde Prairie Winery wine-making  machinery is not currently open to the public. In non-pandemic times, visitors could have tours of the press, filtering, tanks, bottling and labeling equipment, which takes up the large former parlor on the lower level of a dairy barn that was built in 1911. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Victoria Wilde says the Wilde Prairie Winery wine-making machinery is not currently open to the public. In non-pandemic times, visitors could have tours of the press, filtering, tanks, bottling and labeling equipment, which takes up the large former parlor on the lower level of a dairy barn that was built in 1911. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The former milking parlor now is a modern winery with impressive open-top fermentation tanks, pressing, closed-top tanks, with sophisticated equipment for filtering, bottling, corking, capping and labeling. The winery is not currently open for public tours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Dakota-only

Harvest Host visitors stay for free, but they agree to purchase unspecified amounts of value-added products. At Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., this can mean a wine tasting or bottles. Guests tend to spend $40 to $50, rather than paying for standard RV camps, which range from spending roughly $50 to $100 per night in a standard RV camp. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Harvest Host visitors stay for free, but they agree to purchase unspecified amounts of value-added products. At Wilde Prairie Winery at Brandon, S.D., this can mean a wine tasting or bottles. Guests tend to spend $40 to $50, rather than paying for standard RV camps, which range from spending roughly $50 to $100 per night in a standard RV camp. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Wilde Prairie Winery is the only one in the state that Victoria knows about that uses 100% South Dakota grown products.

“Our honey, grapes, our fruit — everything is from South Dakota,” she said. “We support the local growers.”

The Wildes host a number of events through the year — live music every Sunday from June to mid-September. They host “Evenings in the Vineyard” one Friday a month from June to September with a food truck and live music. They have a spring open house and will have a fall harvest festival on Oct. 2.

Victoria Wilde prunes Valient grapes, that are among the 2,000 vines grown at Wilde Prairie Winery, near Brandon, S.D. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Victoria Wilde prunes Valient grapes, that are among the 2,000 vines grown at Wilde Prairie Winery, near Brandon, S.D. Photo taken July 1, 2021, Brandon, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
In the COVID-19 year of 2020, they had a “crazy” busy time, with 70 to 100 visitors at smaller events and 500 at their harvest fest.

“People wanted to get out,” she said. “We have a lot of space so people could come and social-distance easily.” And that’s a benefit.