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en Santé Winery raises a glass in a toast to your health PDF Print E-mail
Written by HOLLY HOFMANN   
Thursday, 12 August 2010 13:53

Organic cottage wine made in northeastern Alberta now available at farmer’s markets after changed regulations

A curious customer walks up to the en Santé winery stall in the open-air Hillhurst Farmer’s Market and picks up a bottle of mead, a wine made from honey.

Photo: Xina Chrapko/en Sante Winery
“Mead is the oldest wine in the world,” explains Tonia Chrapko from behind the table. “The Egyptians were making it in 2000 and 3000 B.C. That’s where the word “honeymoon” comes from, because during the medieval era, the bride’s father was to supply the groom with as much honey wine as he could drink for a whole moon cycle.  

“So a honeymoon used to be a whole month of drinking honey wine.”

Tonia Chrapko is selling wine made at her family’s cottage winery in Brosseau, a hamlet about 140 kms northeast of Edmonton. En Santé is Alberta’s only certified organic cottage winery, which produces wine from crops grown on the farm.

Chrapko explains how the wine varieties range from dry to semi-dry and semi-sweet. They aren’t as sweet and syrupy as other fruit wines. And en Santé holds the title of being the only winery in the world to produce an alfalfa wine, called Green Envy.

“It was one of my dad’s madcap inventions that took off,” she says.

Information on varieties such as Adam’s Apple, Saucy Saskatoon and Calypso Rhubarb rolls off her tongue as if she’s been selling wines all her life.

But she hasn’t.

In fact, until a few years ago, Tonia Chrapko ran her own business centred around accelerated learning, and her sister Xina managed a new pediatric hospice in Calgary. In February of 2008, their father, Victor Chrapko, was killed in a traffic accident. Both Tonia and Xina left their careers in order to take over their father’s orchard and winery.

“For my sister and I, we didn’t want to let it die with him,” says Tonia. “He’d put so much energy into getting the cottage wine industry going and it would have been just a pity to let that go.


Photo: Holly Hofmann/Calgary Journal


Photo: Xina Chrapko/en Sante Winery


Photo: Xina Chrapko/en Sante Winery

(top) Tonia Chrapko sells her family’s organic cottage wine at Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmer’s Market.  Her late father, Victor Chrapko (bottom), worked hard to get regulations changed so that cottage wineries could sell at farmer’s markets.

“It was a big decision in a lot of ways, and at the same time, an easy one because the farm has been in the family so long. My grandparents started it. They cleared the land and pulled the stumps, and then my dad continued it after his dad died. It was like, well, we’re going to continue it on for the next generation.”

Victor Chrapko was one of the first in his area to grow his crops organically without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or pesticides. He received many honours for his work, including an AgChoices Best Practices Renewal Award, an Alberta Farm Family Award and a nomination in the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame. He was also president of the Alberta Organic Producers Association.   

Before he died, Chrapko worked passionately to get the law changed so that cottage wineries – there are three in Alberta – could sell at farmer’s markets. At the time, they were only allowed to sell in liquor stores, restaurants and on the farms. Though he didn’t get to see his work come to fruition, his family pressed on and in late 2008, the regulations changed so that cottage wineries could set up shop at markets.

“My dad said people aren’t going to liquor stores looking for Alberta wine,” says Tonia. “So even if we are in the stores, they don’t even know about us. Being at farmer’s markets, this is where people are looking for local, organic foods.”

Originally, Xina, who has her MBA, was supposed to take care of the marketing side of the business.  Tonia, who spent two years living in France and was more familiar with wine varieties, was to take on the winemaking.

While everyone in the family shares the work on the orchard, there are specific roles at en Santé: Tania is the bootlegger; Victor’s wife, Elizabeth, holds down the fort; and Xina is the warrior winemaker.

Without any formal training, Xina Chrapko is self-taught and one of few female winemakers in the world.

“That’s what mom and dad always taught us from a young age – figure it out, use your common sense, talk to people and be inquisitive,” Xina says, though she also has her father’s detailed notes and recipes to help her.

As for farming, Xina says the family is also continuing her father’s sustainable practices.

“Dad always had the philosophy of, ‘Leave the world a better place than you find it. Don’t just take, take, take from the soil.’ You have to replenish, you have to replace and you have to work in balance.”  

The Chrapkos recycle the water from the winemaking process back into the orchards, use rye to prevent the growth of weeds and keep bees in the orchard to pollinate the fruits – hence the mead made from the honey.

They are now making around 6,000 cases of wine a year, and Xina Chrapko says since more people find out about the wine at farmer’s markets, sales of en Santé at liquor stores have increased.

Being at the markets, says Xina, also shows people that fruit can be grown in Alberta. Over 39 varieties of apples grow in their 15-acre orchard, as well as cherries, Saskatoon berries, cranberries and raspberries.  

While farming in northern Alberta can be tricky and the days taking caring of the orchard are long, Xina refers to the saying: “If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”