Carrying on the Tradition

Carrying on the TraditionThe day Victor Chrapko died when his semitrailer truck was in a collision with a vehicle that hit his fuel tanks could have spelled the end for what could become a promising Alberta industry.

Chrapko, 65, was laid to rest in February in a coffin made by Hutterites using trees that lined the driveway to the Chrapko farmhouse.

Family and friends later enjoyed Chrapko’s organic fruit wine following a celebration of life service, and like people throughout Alberta, they loved it.

“Our father was an out-of-the-box thinker and had the provincial wine laws changed to allow farmers to make fruit wine,” says daughter Tonia Chrapko.

“It took four years to accomplish, but two years ago, he began production.”

The wine has been well received and some local wine stores and restaurants are carrying the wine.

I usually dismiss fruit wine, but when I heard the Fairmont Banff Spring Hotel and discerning deVine’s liquor store were carrying it, I became interested.

“I loved the wines the first time I tried them,” said Dean Miller of the Sherbrooke Liquor Store, a funky little store at 11819 St. Albert Trail.

“We were the first to carry them locally, and we bring in all seven of their wines. We find they far outsell any other kind of fruit wine we carry.”

The wines are now on the shelves of half-a-dozen Edmonton stores and in communities throughout Alberta.

But it could have been the end of the story because Chrapko and his wife Elizabeth were an industrious duo at their nine-acre organically certified orchard at Brosseau, set between Two Hills and St. Paul, a 90-minute drive from Edmonton.

When Chrapko was lost, he took with him the skills that had made the wine so special. But there are two things working for the family.

“One is that our whole family has become involved in making sure the wine business is a success,” says Tonia, a former French immersion teacher and now a self-employed educator and professional speaker.

“Secondly, we have another vintage in reserve while we study just how my father was able to make such great wine.”

Tonia’s sister Xina, a Calgary nurse, commutes home on weekends and has been able to find many festivals at which to showcase their en Santé wines.

Brothers Evan and Shane work in renewable energy and are helping in production and sales.

“Our father for 10 years made wine in his basement as a hobby and then created Alberta’s first certified organic orchard,” says Tonia.

“He believed organic fruit wine could be grown throughout Alberta, and it was a good example of adding value to a product.”

Chrapko sought MLA Ray Danyluk’s help in changing the law to allow cottage wineries to make small amounts of wine when they didn’t know whether a large volume would sell.

Chrapko was nominated to the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2007 and the same year his winery won the AgChoices Best Practice Renewal Award, a joint federal and provincial initiative.

“Our father always stressed leaving the world a better place,” said Tonia. “He did, and we would like to as well.”

A skeptical unbeliever initially, I enjoyed sipping the wines and was amazed that most were 13-per-cent alcohol or higher. They are tasty and are sure to find a following. Wine notes follow, with the old ALCB sweetness scale in brackets, No. 1 being dry.

Campfire Wild Cherry, 2006, $21.99. (1) Made from several varieties of wild, organic cherries. Pair with everything grilled, vegetables to meat.

Adam’s Apple, 2006, $21.99. (2) Made from 15 varieties of apples. Crisp and clean, a good match for pork, chicken and lean beef.

Raspberry Delight, 2007, $21.99. (4) A fresh, clean wine that makes a great sipper. Try with salads.

Raspberry Passion, 2006, 375 ml, $33.50. (4) A rosé desert wine, perfect with cream-based pies and desserts.

Saucy Saskatoon, 2007, $21.99. (4) Wild Saskatoons, a lovely aperitif or serve with all meats, chicken to lamb.

Calypso Rhubarb, 2006, $21.99. (6) Excellent with berry-based desserts. But also with delicate meats and casseroles.

Green Envy Alfalfa, 2007, $21.99. (6) Proving farmer Chrapko lived outside the box, the only hay and greenery aroma in the world. Good body.

Mellow Gold Honey, 2006, $21.99. (10) Made from honey drawn from the winery’s own hives. The smell and taste of wild flowers and clover. Pair with chocolate or ice cream dishes.

Check out the winery at www.ensantewinery.com

Written by: Nick Lees, The Edmonton Journal

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