July 2, 2020
Many of us dream about quitting our corporate jobs, moving to the country and living off the land. Hugo Bonjean didn’t just dream it, he did it.
Originally from Belgium, Bonjean had a series of corporate, office, publishing and hotel executive jobs before he decided to return to his roots… literally.
“The Bonjean family comes from generations of French wine makers and they still have their vineyards in central France,” he explains. “I've always been fascinated with fermentation from around the world.”
Bonjean and his family moved from Europe to Alberta 23 years ago after searching for a place to live more naturally and sustainably. Seven years ago they opened Spirit Hills Winery where they’re using Alberta’s natural beauty and bounty to create unique wines.
The bottles produced by Spirit Hills are not only unique because of their status as biodynamic and organic, but also because of their ingredients: instead of neat rows of carefully-tended vines, the land is populated by sprawling wildflower fields and beehives. That’s because Spirit Hills wine is not made from grapes but rather, as Bonjean puts it, “from flower nectar, harvested and stored in the form of honey”.
The wine produced at Spirit Hills is made from a base of wildflower honey, water and yeast and Bonjean lovingly refers to it as ‘flower wine’. To put it simply, flower wine is wine that originates from flowers or more specifically, their nectar, rather than grapes.
Making flower wine follows a similar process to traditional winemaking, involving fermentation and even barrel ageing, yet the resulting beverage has a flavour palette that is quite distinct from grape wines. These wines are also given charming Alberta-appropriate names like Spirit Hills Bonfire, YeeHaw, Dande and Wild Rosy. A red wine, called Saskwatch, gets its colour and depth from blackberry skins and is aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels.
Although similar to mead in its base ingredients, the Spirit Hills flower wine acquires a complex depth of flavour from the addition of berries and flower petals and has an acidity that is very similar to grape wine. It is referred to as flower wine in honour of the natural source that provides the sugar: the nectar from wildflowers. It is using this raw ingredient, honey, that the real winemaker—the yeast—works its magic. For the yeast to have an optimum effect, winemakers must create an environment in which it can thrive, to produce a smooth and balanced wine.
“Our wines are very popular in Europe, and we have some very famous and notable chefs that love our wine. Our wines are extremely unique and they pair particularly well with food, so these chefs really covet them, particularly because they come from Alberta and they know our land, and our ingredients, are pristine.”
At the Spirit Hills winery, the production of high-quality honey is paramount and the Bonjean family are proud to cultivate their land in such a way that it’s a paradise for their millions of tiny workers: the bees. The nectar they produce is truly unique, due to the variety of natural Alberta wildflowers from which it is harvested.
Like grape wine, Bonjean’s flower wine has distinct vintages. Every year the family at Spirit Hills tweaks the wine recipes to create a consistency of product because year-to-year the changing of the flowers, berries and honey affects the flavours of the wine. The complexity and structure of each year’s flower wine are slightly but noticeably different, making each vintage truly one of a kind.
Find Spirit Hills flower wines at your local Co-op Wine Spirits Beer store.
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