Beyond The Grape

The Alberta cottage wine industry is booming — but owners are cultivating farms, not vineyards.

October 2, 2017

There’s wine being made right here in Alberta, but you probably haven’t noticed it on liquor store shelves. That might change soon, but not soon enough for the 13 cottage wineries that are currently operating in Alberta.

Alberta’s first two wineries, Field Stone Fruit Wines and Birds & Bees Organic Winery and Meadery (formerly en Santé) opened in 2005 after the government passed cottage winery legislation. It was originally intended as a value-add proposition to existing agricultural operations, a way for existing fruit farmers or honey producers to diversify their income streams.

The last dozen years, however, have seen several people get into the industry with the sole intention of making wine — but under provincial legislation, they had to farm, first. Cottage wineries are required to have a minimum of five acres of land devoted to fruit growing, or 50 bee colonies, and all wine production must occur directly on site.

“It’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks it is to run a winery,” says Nathan Zdrodowski. “There is a lot of hard work put into every bottle.”

Zdrodowski and his family founded Shady Lane Estate in Barrhead. They spent a few years building up their fruit production before releasing their first wines in 2016.

Barr Estate tells a similar tale. Owners Rick and Amy Barr — who worked in heart research for 20 years at the University of Alberta — built up their farm just outside Sherwood Park for a few years before they released their first wines in 2010.

“One of our challenges is having people be open to trying our wines, since they are not made from grapes,” Rick Barr says. “This is also a benefit, since people are looking for new and different things.”

Barr’s sentiments are echoed by Marvin Gill, owner of Field Stone Fruit Wines — the oldest cottage winery in the province, founded in 2005 near Strathmore. “I find that the number of people who have now tasted non-grape wines is many, many times greater than it was 10 years ago,” Gill says. “More and more people are drinking outside the grape”


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