Alberta’s fruit-winery industry is still far from reaching critical mass—only about half a dozen cottage wineries have started up throughout the province since the legislation allowing cottage wineries was first introduced in 2005.
Shady Lane Estate is one of the newest entrants to that small group, and while its motivation to start a cottage winery is familiar—the founders, Daniel and Edith Zrdodowski, wanted to take advantage of a value-add proposition for their U-pick fruit orchard, which was barely covering its own costs—it’s got one thing that makes the business stand out: alpacas.
The Zrdodowskis started a U-pick fruit orchard and began raising alpacas around 1999 on a 160-acre farm near Barrhead. They take the alpacas to trade shows as well as raise them for their fibre and meat; they’ve also expanded their operation to include ducks, sheep, rabbits and pigs. The duo has since been joined by several other family members as needed throughout the season: their three sons, Nathan, Caleb and Samuel; Nathan’s wife Veronica and Caleb’s wife Emily; their sister Natalie and cousin Darlene Martin; and Edith’s sister Judy Lotholz. Emily’s family came from a family of home winemakers, who were the initial source of information that helped Shady Lane begin its wine operation.
“Me and my brother were hassling our parents to go for the winery,” Nathan says. “We finally convinced them to do the test batches and all that, because the U-pick itself—between the insurance and just the amount of fruit that you have to sell, it was barely paying for itself. So we decided to do value-added to the U-pick itself.”
Shady Lane entered the market with a raspberry wine after obtaining its winery licence in 2014. It’s in the process of bottling three other wines (strawberry, rhubarb and saskatoon berry) which will be available shortly—Zrdodowski is actually speaking over the phone from the bottling line. (“I’ve got a whole circus full of people right here, to heckle at me,” he says.) Shady Lane isn’t planning to stop there either, and it’s working on new test batches all the time; currently the winery’s trying out chokecherry, apple and buffalo berries. Nathan notes that all of Shady Lane’s fruit is grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and that there aren’t any chemicals added to the wine.
“We just used a lot of experience and knowledge from different family members and different people that we know, as well as we picked the brains of a few wine masters from in BC as well as in Ontario,” Nathan explains, referring to how the team learned the trade. They also reached out to fellow Alberta fruit wineries, Barr Estate and Birds and Bees, for some advice during their initial test phase. His background in graphic design and Caleb’s former occupation as a mechanic have also come in handy at the winery, allowing them to design their labels and website, and handle day-to-day maintenance, in-house.
You can find Shady Lane wine at four farmers’ markets: City Market Downtown and St Albert on Saturdays, and Salisbury and Fort Saskatchewan on Thursdays. The bottles retail for $22 each, except for Shady Lane’s sponsored bottle (rhubarb) which sells for $30, with $5 being donated to Canadian bobsled team member Melissa Lotholz. This summer, the winery is also hosting a series of
Listen.Taste.Enjoy events featuring live music, winery tours and a locally-sourced meal at the farm.
It took a lot longer to set up the winery than the Zrdodowskis had initially envisioned—over a year and a half, instead of the projected four to six months; they’re still working on paperwork to get their wine into liquor stores. Still, Nathan is generally positive about the future of wine in Alberta—it’s just going to take a while to grow.
“I definitely think that in the future there will be quite a few more wineries trying to start up,” he says. “Cottage wineries are a lot easier to get into, but there’s still a lot of paperwork and loops and holes you have to jump through. Last year there were 12 that applied [for a cottage winery licence], and only one made it through. This year, from what I understand, there were over 20 applicants, so we’ll see how many of them make it through the first year—the first year’s the hardest.
“By the time you can actually make your wine and get all the tests and all the equipment and the licensing—it’s a lot of work in the first year, first two years, before you can even see product on the shelf, or product to sell to the public,” he continues. “We definitely thought it was going to go a lot faster.” V
Mel Priestley is a certified sommelier and wine writer who also blogs about wine, food and the arts at melpriestley.ca
Shady Lane Estate
58029 Range Road 44, Barrhead