“That’s about to be 2,000 bottles of rhubarb-raspberry wine,” says Sylvia Kreutzer, following my gaze into a tank of brilliant pink juice extracted from fruit grown on the 16 hectares of rolling plains that surround us, overlooking the Qu’Appelle Valley in south-central Saskatchewan. Prairie Rhuberry is the biggest seller here at Over the Hill Orchard and Winery, and she pours me a glass to pair with the tall, saucy sour-cherry sundae I’m devouring as I take in a stunning view of orchard, grasslands and river valley.
Kreutzer and her husband Dean opened their orchard to the public 20 years ago, selling wines, cherry-focused desserts, and even the plants themselves, in order to support Dean’s love of agronomy and quest to leave a legacy in the form of new – or at least improved – prairie-friendly fruit varietals. Though they’re best known for sour cherries, new visitors are inevitably surprised by what they find growing here. It’s still early spring and there are figs in the greenhouse, pinot noir grapes thriving on vines, and thousands of strawberry plants – a variety that tastes like bubble gum, some of which they’ll sell at the Regina farmers’ market. The Kreutzers turn their organic peaches, plums, apples, apricots, raspberries, haskaps and saskatoons into wine, some blended with pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and other grapes.
Over the Hill is just over 10 minutes by car from Lumsden, a town of 1,800 and a bedroom community for Regina. Lumsden has the feel of a small-town movie set, with wide streets, large green spaces, extraordinary century-old brick and sandstone homes and mature trees creating canopies over roadways. Known as a community of artists and entrepreneurs, the tiny population has been focused on alternative forms of energy in recent years, and aims to become the most sustainable town in the province.
Lumsden is a neighbourhood in the truest sense of the word. I felt part of its fabric instantly, getting to know brewers, distillers, bakers and restaurateurs at every stop. At Last Mountain Distillery, grains for their spirits are delivered via auger by farmers just a few miles down the road, and the fresh dill for their famous dill pickle vodka grows right across the street. The ribs at Free Bird, a hip eatery owned by chef JP Vives and his mother, Pam Vives, are sticky with barbecue sauce made with cherries from Over the Hill and whisky from Last Mountain. At Iron Bridge Brewery, named for the iron truss bridge that crosses the Qu’Appelle River and provides access to the Lumsden River Park, father-son owners Darrell and Denby Haysom have that delicious Prairie Rhuberry wine on their menu, along with cocktails made with Last Mountain spirits. With a dozen taps, they have enough room for a few other local brews as well as their own, including a beer made with lentils from Rebellion in Regina (Saskatchewan is the world’s No. 1 exporter of lentils).
Over at the orchard, the Kreutzers hold special suppers every weekend between May and Thanksgiving, collaborating with local chefs to serve meals outside, overlooking the valley, after Dean takes guests on a show-and-tell tour of the orchard and greenhouse. Their bottles are also packed into luxe picnic baskets with local bread, cheese and charcuterie for visitors to take out to enjoy in the trees. Just south of the orchard, the Wascana Valley Natural Area is popular for picnicking, and offers 15 kilometres of trails suitable for walking and mountain biking in summer, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.
Lumsden was an unexpectedly delicious discovery, a calm, culinary-focused haven in the middle of the prairies. Driving back along a secondary highway to my Regina hotel, I pull over so I can take in a tiny brick 1886 schoolhouse, and then again when a red-painted wooden barn built on a stone foundation catches my eye – a stunning backdrop for big spring snowflakes that have begun to fall. It’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood.