The British Columbia and Ontario wine scenes are huge, but what about Alberta? That's right, this big-sky Western province celebrated for the Canadian Rockies and rodeo is getting into the wine business and the results are downright delectable.
Innovative producers are dabbling in fruit and other grape-less varieties in a dynamic new industry with a sense of nostalgia for the homesteaders who started it all with their own backyard brew. They're also proving that raspberries and rhubarb can be as mighty as the grape when it comes to top-quality wines.
Field Stone - Strathmore, near Calgary
Rich Alberta soils yield luscious fruit -- berries, apples, wild cherries -- though grapevines, not so much. Fruit growers began branching out in 2005 to start a new fruit wine cottage industry. Award-winning Field Stone Fruit Wines was one of the first, and today makes some of Canada's best using all-local produce. From 50 acres amid prairie fields and farms, vintner Dominic Rivard produces 10 labels from off-dry black currant to sweet dessert Saskatoon berry, including the gold-medal bumbleberry. Taste onsite and u-pick juicy berries in the orchard, too.
Birds & Bees - Brosseau, near Edmonton
Little Flirt Rhubarb sound intriguing? Birds & Bees Organic Winery and Meadery (formerly en Sant? Winery) has a sense of humor, along with smooth, top-notch vintages with body. The roster includes dry varieties, such as Cherry Likes It On Top, with plucky names like Honey I Have Meads and Big Tease Raspberry. Victor and Elizabeth Chrapko run an organic, enviro-friendly family homestead near Lac Sante that feels like stepping back in time. Call ahead to taste in the 1927 farmhouse and pick berries.
Chinook Arch Meadery – Okotoks, near Calgary
Mead is a non-grape wine and ancient beverage -- the oldest alcoholic drink on record -- of fermented honey, fruit, and spices, and that's what Chinook Arch makes in this pretty, off-the-beaten-path rural area. Alberta's first meadery, Chinook, experiments with complex flavor profiles -- for example, buckwheat and black currant -- and you can only taste them here. It's also a honey farm, so you can browse the shop for the golden good stuff, as well as honey-infused items, like lotions, and learn about how the whole process works from flowers to honeycomb.
Spirit Hills – Millarville, near Calgary
Food-friendly, grapeless wines inspired by Alberta's original settlers is what Spirit Hills Winery specializes in. Expect a strong backbone thanks to traditional fermentation of honey, rosehips, flowers, and berries in a medium-dry white, dry red, semi-sweet ros?, dandelion white, mulled wine, and two popular party wines. Taste and take a tour of the quaint, Euro-meets-Western-style, artisan family winery, bee yard, and permaculture organic garden. Then uncork the sangr?a aptly named "YeeHaa"!
Barr Estate Winery – Sherwood Park, near Edmonton
After two decades working as university medical researchers, Amy and Rick Barr decided to apply their scientific lens to producing the very best fine fruit wine possible. They grow all produce pesticide-free on the family farm, hand pick it, and use sheep to mow the grass. Barr Estate Winery focuses on just two off-drys: The Other Red (raspberry) and The Barb (rhubarb). Open your mind, they say, and "give the wines an opportunity to entice your senses." Reservations required.
If you're ready to expand your oenophile horizons, Alberta's inventive winemakers are with you. The best part is an epic road trip, hike, bike, paddle, or wildlife tour are all just down the road, too.
Take a look at all the incredible things to eat, drink, see, and do on the Travel Alberta website.