|Wine Tour Industry Growing in Sk|
|Written by Sharon Vanhouwe|
|Wednesday, 29 August 2012 12:16|
Google, "winery tours in Canada" and long lists pop up for tours in Ontario and B.C.
But Saskatchewan is starting to be a part of this scene too.
There are 3 major cottage wineries or micro distilleries operating in Saskatchewan. The Cypress Hills Winery, Living Skies Winery near Purdue and Last Mountain Distillery near Lumsden. Cypress Hills and Living Sky both feature award winning wines made from Saskatchewan grown fruit and Last Mountain produces a connoisseur vodka among other spirits.
The cottage winery and micro distillery in Saskatchewan has lots of room to grow and for Eric and Irina Kotelko, who own and operate Riverlot Orchards near St. Louis, Saskatchewan, becoming part of this activity was sort of the result of a fortunate turn of events.
And that's kind of the way this couple met too.
Irina moved to Saskatchewan from Belarus 8 years ago. She says she came here to be with Eric, whom she had meet via the internet. She says her friend was looking for a partner on-line and insisted Irina give it a try too. Irina says, to satisfy her friend, she agreed. She says both she and Eric were not too hopeful in finding a relationship this way, but it did work out.
Irina says the pair corresponded by email for about 6 months and then Eric came to see her in Minsk, and then a few months later she came to Canada to have a look around.
She says the landscape between here and her home is very similar. As for the weather, she says the winters in Belarus, as a rule, are not quite as cold and the summer's are not so hot. Other than that the seasons are similar.
Irina says she had studied some English in her home country, but had a little trouble understanding the language once she got here. She says the University in Belarus teaches a British form of English which can be quite a bit different from the way we speak it. She says she could barely understand what people were saying and had to ask them to speak slower.
She says she was quite lonely here for the first 2 or 3 years, despite Eric introducing her to his friends, but her mom comes to visit every summer and she has two children, aged 28 and 23, who both work in Prince Albert now and so she's adapted pretty well. She was a teacher in Belarus, but did have some experience working the land. She had an Aunt who lived on the farm and every summer went to help out. She says the farms in Belarus who quite small but the experience gave her a good idea of what working on a farm was like.
Eric works in one of the mines in northern Saskatchewan which leaves Irina to do much of the farmwork herself half the time. She says she works very hard on the farm, but enjoys it very much. She and Eric have a large selection of fruit producing crops on the 7 acre parcel of land that's situated right next to the South Saskatchewan river. She says Eric actually had a lot of help from the University of Saskatchewan in establishing the orchard to begin with. They grow 2 kinds of apples, honeysuckle, plums, cherries, rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries.
Irina says her husband, Eric had already had an orchard planted when she came on the scene, but the plans for it, where not for a winery. She says he had already started the orchard by the time she came on the scene and his plans were to have a U-pic. Then both of them decided that's not really want they wanted to do. She says Eric had already been making wines for a hobby. So the pair called Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming who told them to go see the winery at Cypress Hills and they were sold on the idea of starting a winery too.
Now, she says her husband, Eric has been working to expand his knowledge and gets a lot of his troubleshooting information from books, the internet and the contacts he's made.
Irina describes the layout of the winery which did open to the public for wine tasting tours this summer on a small scale. She says they have separate buildings from the house that house a commercial kitchen and a winery. Eric is currently building a bistro that they hope will open next year. It's built in the style of a french castle. That, castle will overlook the river.
Irina says the equipment for wine making came from overseas and cost around 25 thousand dollars. The stainless steel barrels and the presses came from Italy.
Irina also sells her wine at the Prince Albert farmers market twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays and getting a license to do that was a year long affair. First they had to apply to Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming who checked for any criminal record and if you pass that hurdle you apply again and buy all your equipment and then the authorities come and check everything and after that, they decide whether or not to give you a license.
The wine tasting tours on the farm are held every Sunday from noon to 6 and have been going very well so far. She says they are pretty busy with 20 to 30 people throughout the period. She says they actually try not to advertise too much because they don't want to be overwhelmed and they want all the guests to have a good experience. They want the visitors to learn about the wines and if Eric isn't too busy, he'll take groups on a winery tour.
This year, Irina says they've been selling wine made from honeysuckle, wild black cherry, which is actually our chokecherry, sour cherry, rhubarb, strawberries, apples and raspberry, which is sold out at the moment.
Irina Kotelko, along with her husband, Eric, own and operate Riverlot Orchard near St. Louis, Saskatchewan.