Way back when, in 2005, Alberta introduced the cottage winery licence (Class E) to add value to Alberta’s agriculture by diversifying the products that come from these farms. It seems to have worked, as more and more people are looking to the local wine market for both its quality and easy access. However, to start a fruit or honey wine business in the province, it is important to prove that you are truly a fruit farmer or beekeeper first. And that producer should have vast knowledge of their stock-in-trade, and ingredients, not just the to be finished product. It takes time, experimenting, and a whole lot of patience to make a good bottle of wine.
At this point in time, the Alberta climate means that grapes can’t ripen, or survive most winters like other places - but all is not lost. Alberta’s wineries have access to all kinds of local fruit to be enjoyed. This includes blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, haskaps, and saskatoons – to name a few. It is also common to find wines made from apples, alfalfa, and rhubarb.
In Alberta, there are some wineries that don’t use fruit, but use honey as their fermentation base, and these are what we call meaderies. Traditionally, mead typically fits between wine and beer in alcoholic strength, and can be still or bubbly, and can also have additional flavourings like fruit or spices. Albertans are certainly creative when it comes to producing a beverage that turns everyday life into a celebration.
Such as Shady Orchards and Winery in High River. What started as a fun hobby between newlyweds, only grew into a business by February 2018. So much so that, William Gordon had quit his oil and gas job to make wine full time with his wife Kristie. Because of their location and that people tend to think good Canadian wine only comes from certain locations, they find it difficult. However, they meet this task head on by listening to what their customers want, using their own fruits that they grow, and constantly making the changes needed to beat the odds.
“We are very locally in tune.” Says William. “It is the locals that inspire us along with the available fruit native to Albertans.” This inspiration had them create a favourite amongst the people, their raspberry-saskatoon wine, and more recently a series of lemonade-style wine coolers.
Another husband-and-wife team up in Northern Alberta have been creating all kinds of unique fruit wines since 1990. Armed with a backyard full of fruit, a background in science, and a passion for good wine, this dynamic duo started something special in their own home. In 2002 these two moved out of their city home and into the country. With the 2005 cottage winery license changes these two knew they needed to create a five-acre farm full of fruit. It took five years of hard work and a lot of outside help but a successful vintage was created in 2009 and started selling in 2010. With no sulphates or fining agents in the bottle, no herbicides or pesticides on the fruit, and lastly, the natural manure and compost created by their own farm animals, comes a wine from the Barr Winery Estates.
However, the Barrs have had their share of challenges. It wasn’t just the labour, the maintenance of the fields, or even the cost. When Covid-19 hit, tourism to the winery had gone way down. Luckily with some adjustments, the winery is making its way back to being the joyous, innovative, and unique place that it has always been.
The first winery to open in all of Alberta starting July 2005 is Field Stone Fruit Wines in Strathmore. Found in many farmer’s markets and some select liquor stores throughout the province, this winery has only grown in its popularity. The two people who started Field Stone are Marvin and Elaine Gill who, despite having a love of music, longed to go back to their farming roots. The plan was to just grow berries but that quickly changed into something more. Before they knew it, their “hobby farm” flourished and a new dream emerged from it. The dream of winemaking. With a little help from Canadian fruit wine expert Dominic Rivard, these humble farmers came up with an award-winning wine called Wild Black Cherry Wine (aka Chokecherry).
As mentioned above, there are some honey wines are also making history in the province. Fallentimber in Water Valley, Alberta is the perfect example of this. It is a third-generation aviary (bee farm) that has extended its product lineup into mead. What started as a single operation in 2010 has grown greatly. Because the owners have been around honey their whole lives, it only seemed natural to turn their love of it into a drink that expands their farm to make it ground-breaking and achieve agricultural growth. It is now the biggest meadery in all of Canada and one of the biggest in the world. Because mead is a somewhat obscure product, not too many people know that it is a versatile, unique, and delicious drink that many people enjoy.
Alberta may not have the classic, grape-based wineries that British Columbia is known for, but it does have something extra special. Cottage wines bring a unique experience and promises a wonderful taste of the natural world. A lot of what Alberta produces are fruit and/or honey wines which are anything but typical.
Calgary’s City & Country Winery is the only urban winery and tasting bar in all of Alberta. Since their first vintage in 2017, what makes this place different to anywhere else in Canada is that the grapes come from all over the world - from the Okanagan to Australia. Husband and wife Chris and Karen Fodor starter their own one-of-a-kind business here in Alberta opening their doors to the public in February 2020. With a current selection of 15 wines, there are no artificial colours, flavours, or sugars to their product so every wine that is created is completely natural. The products also have a bonus of being both gluten-free and vegan. As the Fodors say, “natural wine amplifies everything.”