Husband-and-wife team, Rick and Amy Barr, own Barr Estate Winery. They purchased the property in 2002 and have been producing wines since 2009. Prior to opening Barr Estate Winery, both Rick and Amy worked in heart research at the University of Alberta for more than 20 years. Together with Amy’s parents Mike and Jeanette, they ventured into this opportunity and have been experiencing great success!
Barr Estate Winery is what’s known as a “cottage winery”; this means that the fruits they use in their wine are grown on their land. Currently, they have two wines: The Other Red, a nice-bodied, semi-dry raspberry wine, and The Barb, a light and refreshing, rhubarb wine. Within the next couple of years, they plan on adding four more wines to their product line; the next one coming out will be a cherry wine, followed by to be announced flavours. When Rick and Amy first began producing their wines, they spent their weekends visiting local farmer’s markets to sell their products. Now, they are in over 40 liquor stores in Alberta!
During my visit to Barr Estate Winery, I had the chance to learn all about their process of winemaking. They begin by hand-picking all the fruits for their wines; it takes about an hour to pick 60 pounds of raspberries, 2-3 hours to pick 60 pounds of cherries, and 12+ hours to pick 60 pounds of rhubarb! Once the fruit is picked, it is then processed through a fruit press to extract all the juices. It takes about a month to process all the fruit, and they don’t make any wine until this step is done. While they are processing all the fruit, any juice they have extracted is frozen until it’s time to being the next step.
When all the fruit is processed, the next step is to begin the fermentation process. To do this, they add the fruit juice to the tank along with water. Since the juice and water alone will only produce about a 4% alcohol content, they add locally sourced beet sugar to get the full 12% alcohol content. This method is called “capitalization”. The final ingredient added to the tank is yeast. Once all the ingredients have been added, the fermentation process can begin. It takes about 6 weeks for the entire fermentation process to complete – At the end of the six weeks, all the sugars will have been converted to alcohol.
But it’s still not ready to be bottled! Once the fermentation process is complete, the wine needs to sit for another two months to allow all the yeast to sink to the bottom so it can be removed. After the yeast has settled, it’s time to filter the wine and get it ready to be bottled! This filtration process allows the Barr’s to remove any last traces of yeast to ensure we, the consumer, are getting a top-quality product. The wine will be filtered a total of five times before they can finally bottle it! This process also sterilizes the wine, which allows Rick and Amy to avoid adding sulphites to the final product. The last step before bottling the wine is to sweeten it up so it’s not so dry – Beet sugar from a local farm is used to sweeten the rhubarb wine, while the raspberry wine is sweetened using a clover-alfalfa honey from Grande Prairie.
When it comes to bottling the wine, that’s another whole process! The bottles need to be cleaned and sanitized before the wine can be put into them. Rick spends days washing and sanitizing each bottle in his kitchen. The Barr’s do not use chemicals to clean and sanitize the bottles – boiling hot water does the trick. Each bottle is washed and sterilized twice before the wine can be bottled. A bottler is used to fill each wine bottle with exactly 750 mL of wine. Once the wine is in the bottle, it is corked and then covered with a heat-shrink capsule to finalize the product.
Barr Estate Winery has a very specific design on their bottles. An Edmonton-based company called Vision Creative created this design. They went through 20 design options before finally settling on the one they chose! Each bottle has the same design, but each flavour has its own colour: The Other Red has the design in red and The Barb has the design in Silver. When they release their cherry wine, the bottle will have the same design in gold. This design will allow consumers to know what fruit went into each bottle of wine simply by the colour on the bottle. (Fun fact: Amy names all the wines!) The Barr’s are currently producing 5000-6000 bottles of wine each year, but they hope to soon be able to produce 15,000-20,000 bottles at full-tilt.
I’m so excited that I got to visit Barr Estate Winery and take in this fantastic and informative tour with Rick Barr. He and Amy graciously opened up their winery, farm, and home, and everyone who visited seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves (along with the wine tastings, fresh lamb sausage, and raspberry compote with vanilla ice cream)!