Give it up for global warming. The times they are a changin', enough it would seem to finally make my dream of a little winery on the prairie closer to reality.
In fact, a well-known microclimate in the southwestern corner of Saskatchewan-the glacial aberration that left the lush Cypress Hills towering over dry flatlands-is now home to the Great Plains' first grape-growing commercial winery, Cypress Hills Vineyard & Winery.
Former cattle ranchers Marie and Marty Bohnet jumped into the wine business with both boots, fermenting not only the usual prairie fruits-chokecherry, Saskatoon berry, sour cherry and rhubarb-into wines, but planting a 1.8 ha (4.5-ac) vineyard of hardy hybrid wine grapes. Marie Bohnet says it started with a few vines purchased at the local garden centre that thrived on the south side of the bunkhouse. She studied winemaking through correspondence courses from the
University of California at Davis (USA) as it came time to buy fermentation tanks and learn about planting and pruning.
The Bohnets describes their new business as "a hobby gone bad," but they're more than dabbling in the wine biz. Last year, their little winery on the prairie, just southwest of
Maple Creek, SK, pumped out 22,000 bottles of eight unique wines, all of them sold right at the couple's winery store.
That's the only tricky part. If you want to taste the Cypress Hills North Slope Red (a blend of several grapes grown in the vineyard), the Black Currant & Honey wine, or the bestselling Rhubarb Blend (a white made with a special German wine rhubarb), you'll have to drive to southwestern Saskatchewan.
Plan to stay for a vineyard self-guided tour and lunch-with a wine tasting, of course-on the sunny deck overlooking the Bohnet's manicured gardens. Whether you're just travelling the
Trans-Canada, or heading off on a camping trip in beautiful
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, there's never been a tastier reason to take a detour.
Cinda Chavich is the former food editor and senior feature writer for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun. Specializing in cuisine, cultural history, eco-travel, lifestyle and trends, Chavich contributes to The Globe and Mail, CBC radio, Avenue (Calgary), Chatelaine, Canadian Geographic, Westworld, up!, Wine Access, Food Service & Hospitality and Alberta Parent, as well as American publications Wine Spectator, Cooking Light and Relish. From cod tongues in Newfoundland to truffles in northern Italy, Chavich is keen to explore the unique corners of Canada.
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