It’s not hard to see why Mitch Burt was taken with the unexpectedly picturesque property overlooking waves of red cedars and the slowly winding Elkhorn River back in 1989.
“I bought it as an investment,” he said.
Burt, then of Omaha and more recently of Fremont, wanted to buy a farmhouse in the area, and instead settled on a 20-acre piece of land at the top of a bluff at 7233 County Road 30, in rural Arlington.
Along with his twin brother, Mike, of Omaha, Mitch was intrigued by the idea of starting a vineyard on the land. The brothers, who were raised in Omaha, didn’t have any agricultural experience.
After having the soil tested several years ago for grape-growing qualities, the brothers committed to planting edelweiss, a winter-hardy wine grape variety.
Mitch attended grape-grower conventions in Kearney, and studied viticulture.
The Burts also decided on a name for their new venture — Dragonfly Vineyards.
“They fly up from the river and mate,” Mike said of its namesake.
“Some of them are really beautiful,” Mitch said.
It takes three to four years for a vineyard to produce grapes, so the Bucks expect a harvest in the next couple of years.
Planting takes place in May. The roots are shipped in a box to Dragonfly from New York and Idaho.
The Burts hand-fertilize and trim the plants. They mow just a few times a season, and use two Farmall tractors and field mowers. Wire fencing keeps deer at bay.
Dragonfly has 400 plants today, but lost 100 during the drought. Mitch said dry conditions pose the biggest threat to grapevines, in addition to standing water. The Burts are considering a drip-line irrigation system to ensure adequate moisture for the vineyard.
“It’s a little challenging,” Mitch said. “It’s a startup. You start at sun-up. At noon, you’re ready to go.”
The Burts have made their little piece of paradise a private haven for their family, with an annual hayrack ride, a campsite by the river and a nature walk complete with rustic trails and wood steps traversing the forest.
But the vineyard is still a work in progress for the Burts, who hope to eventually open a winery, public nature trail and foundry. Mike is a bronze artist, and creates art at Dragonfly Foundry, located in a shop on the property. Mitch works in IT, and the brothers also own Tin Lizzy Tavern in Fremont.
“It’s really my retirement gig,” Mitch said.