Wine and cider fans in the Yukon with a desire to drink local can rejoice — refreshments from two new companies have hit the shelves, many packed with homegrown haskap goodness.
Yukon Wines, which proclaims itself as the territory’s first commercial winery, and Solstice Ciderworks both launched their first rounds of products in late April, with dry and semi-sweet haskap wines, a Chardonnay-style apple wine, and haskap and raspberry ciders on offer.
The haskaps used to make the drinks are all locally-grown at Yukon Berry Farms, with farm co-founder Kyle Marchuk serving as the president for the new ventures.
Marchuk said in an interview April 29 that the idea for creating wine and cider companies came from the desire to make products with the haskaps from the farms.
“We definitely wanted to do something from sort of start to finish in the Yukon, so seed to finished product, all here in the Yukon,” he said.
They initially started with a haskap jam that Marchuk brought with him to a food show in Japan in March of 2016. While the jam was well-received and prompted Yukon Berry Farms to plant a second field to meet the demand, Marchuk said he also noticed at the show that about a third of the food on display was some kind of wine, with quite a few that were berry-based.
That, combined with regulations and certifications required for exporting food out of the Yukon, helped steer Yukon Berry Farms’ focus towards alcohol.
“We want something that preserves well, you know, that has a decent margin and is fun to do, and so wine and cider it was,” Marchuk said.
While he had heard of and seen haskap wines, Marchuk said he’d never tried one before jumping into the business himself. Using a grant from the Yukon Business Development Program, Yukon Berry Farms brought up a professional winemaker familiar with working with haskaps about three years ago and soon had recipes Marchuk said everyone was happy with.
The winemaker, he said, was impressed with the quality of Yukon haskaps, which are “quite a bit better than that of, I guess the national average” thanks to the territory’s northern latitude and how the plant grows and reacts in northern climates.
About a pound of haskaps goes into every bottle of wine, with everything pressed, aged and bottled in Whitehorse.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into getting that juice out of the haskap and for anyone who’s ever eaten them before, they know it’s pretty messy so, you can imagine our hands are pretty red and everything is pretty messy during that juicing process, but it’s worth it,” Marchuk said.
“It’s a lot of pressing and filtering and you know, a lot of lab work as well and making sure everything is safe and tasty … and just making sure we do our due diligence before we bottle because once it’s in, it’s in.”
Development on the ciders began around the same time, with Solstice Ciderworks opting to use more expensive but higher-quality apples grown in the Okanagan rather than from the U.S. or China as a base.
The investment paid off, Marchuk said; due to the higher quality of the apples, they used far fewer than anticipated to make the ciders and were left with a bunch of surplus fruit — the origin of the non-haskap wine.
“It was a bit of a surprise and we talked to the winemaker, we were like, ‘Well what do we do with this now?’” Marchuk recalled. “And he suggested a white wine as well, sort of a Chardonnay-style aged in oak.”
Marchuk encouraged people to approach the wines with a bit of an open mind — they don’t quite have the same characteristics as a grape-based wine and shouldn’t really be compared against one.
That difference though, appears to be paying off: the first delivery of wines to the Whitehorse liquor store sold out within about a day, as did the second delivery; Marchuk said he hoped the third would be on the shelves a bit longer, to give more people the opportunity to pick it up.
He said he was personally particularly fond of the dry wine (“let it breathe for a bit … it surprised me that we came up with something as tasty as it is”) and the haskap cider (“it’s pretty close to my heart, you know, having grown that right here in the Yukon, so maybe that’s a bit of a bias”); a dry apple cider is also on its way.
While launching during a global pandemic isn’t exactly how Marchuk said he had envisioned introducing Yukon Wines and Solstice Ciderworks to the world, it hasn’t been too rough of a go either.
“The one thing that people seem to keep on doing though is drinking alcohol,” he said, “so, not that I necessarily encourage them to continue to drink lots of alcohol, but if they do, certainly give our wines a shot, and our cider.”
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com