Fruit wines in Alberta aren't new; but Beau Bella is including the grape, too.
By Mel Priestley | October 24, 2022
Coming face to face with a skunk in the haskap field is just part of an average day for Ann Johnsen, founder and owner-operator of Beau Bella Winery.
“I thought it was a cat!” Johnsen says. “You encounter a lot of animals when you’re out picking berries.” (Thankfully, she didn’t get sprayed.)
Johnsen started Beau Bella, one of Alberta’s newest fruit wineries, in 2020. It was a slow start right during the beginning of the pandemic, but Johnsen has been steadily finding new customers through local farmers’ markets.
“The community is so great and everyone supported us — I couldn’t have done it without the market community,” she says.
Johnsen immigrated to Canada from England over 42 years ago. She recalls the moment when she decided to move. “I watched a video about Canada and saw the cowboys and chariots and it was just like watching the movies,” she explains. “I thought, ‘I have to go to there!’”
That video turned out to be a clip of Klondike Days. Johnsen headed west — despite her friends and family thinking she was crazy for moving somewhere so cold — and settled down on a farm near Beaumont with her husband, a Canadian farm boy and rugby player.
Johnsen grows many different fruits on her farm, including raspberries, haskaps, blackcurrants, pears, apples, rhubarb and grapes. She has a micro-winery on site and makes all the wines herself, putting to good use her decades of experience making wine with various local home wine-making clubs. She also keeps bees and makes mead.
Beau Bella is unique among the other Alberta fruit wineries because Johnsen makes wine from grapes, in addition to various prairie fruits. She grows the hybrid Frontenac and Valiant grape varieties, which are able to withstand frigid winter temperatures.
She also uses some Vitis vinifera grapes from British Columbia, mainly Merlot and Chardonnay. Her brother is a grape grower in the Okanagan and, every October, she visits him and picks as many grapes as she can fit in her truck. “Then I have to drive like a bat out of hell back to Alberta, becauseI crush all the grapes and make the wine here,” she says.
Most of Beau Bella’s wines are dry, which makes them very refreshing and excellent with food. They break the usual stereotypes about fruit wines being very sweet.
Johnsen sells her wines at Bountiful Market every weekend, and is working on getting them listed at retail stores across the province. You can also visit the winery in-person — just call ahead to arrange a time. Guests can enjoy sampling the different wines and pairing them with a selection of small plates, including charcuterie, flatbreads, fruit trays and other snacks.
“It’s beautiful to sit outside and have a nice glass of wine and enjoy the countryside,” Johnsen says.
“Then you can see how everything is grown and how the wine is made. There’s a lot of love, a lot of care and a lot of attention that goes into a bottle of wine.”
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