Central Alberta couple turning fruit into wine
D&A Gardens owners Dave and Arden Delidais had run a successful fruit nursery for 45 years when they found themselves facing a challenge.
They had 15,000 kilograms of cherries but markets have not been strong.
“We’ve had to let crop drop,” says Arden, who planted the first fruit trees at their property just northeast of Elnora in 1975. Starting with a single acre of saskatoons they now have 15 acres of fruit, a u-pick operation and a farm store.
That’s when they started thinking about other ways to use their fruit, adding value and tapping into the growing enthusiasm for ag tourism, and the idea for Delidais Estate Winery was born.
“We produced our first batches of wine and then we shipped them to a wine consultant,” she says.
“He said, ‘These are good’ and offered some advice on tweaks they could make.
Encouraged by that show of approval, they stepped up production and began selling their wines, liquers and juices at the Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market last fall and the response was positive from the start.
“With the wine we consume our product,” says Arden. “We’ve also got a juice that is getting made that is just off the charts. It consumes a lot of product as well.”
The non-alcoholic sparkling drink is made with black currant, cherry, honey and sumac.
“It is incredible is with gin. We’re going to make a cocktail to market before December I hope. It’s exciting. It really is.”
Many people associate fruit wines with a sweet taste.
“Very intentionally, we’ve made our fruit wines not sweet,” she says, adding she believes their wines made from black currants, cherries, chokecherries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples and saskatoons compare favourably to those produced from grapes.
“Our wines are pretty close in terms of quality. You don’t need grapes at the end of the day.”
There have been many pleasant surprises along the way — rhubarb wine for instance.
“I didn’t think rhubarb would make such a lovely wine. You wouldn’t think so but you can ferment everything really.”
Besides the wine, they have liqueurs made from apples, cherries, saskatoons and black currants.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, people can sample their wines and other products at the Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market. Their nursery is also open all year round and they will be offering wine tasting at their farm store.
“Our business plan initially was to sell direct and I think it’s going to come together. This year-round Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market was almost made to order for us.”
The goal is to create a destination business that draws people to the area, which has plenty of camping and Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park among other attractions.
“We did four weeks of wine tasting tours in the orchard last fall. That went over really well so we’re going to do that starting in mid-June.”
Also starting in June will be the Bootlegger Brisket dinners every Friday evening and on Sunday mornings the Ultimate Fruit Pancake Breakfast aims to draw flapjack fans to the nursery.
The couple now employ 14 people including a professional chef and vintners.
The wines themselves tell the Delidais family story.
Dave’s grandfather first homesteaded the area in 1913 after immigrating to Canada from France.
Eugene was an orphan and his future was limited.
“He had the choice to join the French Foreign Legion or the church. So he spent 17 years in the French Foreign Legion,” she said.
Somewhere along the line he picked up a talent for bootlegging, which inspired the winery’s Bottlegger cherry wine and the Contraband chokecherry table wine. The Back Breaker black currant wine is a nod to the land breaking Dave’s father André had to do.
André and his wife Mildred are honoured on the bottle of the Sweetheart strawberry wine. Other wines, Dave and his father make an appearance on the Trapper chokecherry wine and Dave is featured on the Farm Boy wine and the Prairie Life apple pie liquer. Dave and Arden themselves make an appearance on Determined – a yellow chokecherry wine that celebrates their life together.
Arden said she and Dave are pleased how well their venture is going.
“It is blossoming. I’m really excited about it.”