Grapes grow on vines, weaving intricate patterns across trellises and arbours. These deciduous plants prefer temperate climates and come to life in various soils, though well-draining terrain is ideal. Grapes are classified into table grapes, enjoyed fresh or as raisins, and wine grapes, which are often smaller and have thicker skins. Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, especially resveratrol, grapes offer a range of health benefits, from heart health to anti-inflammatory properties.
The history of grape cultivation stretches back over 7,000 years, with origins in the Near East. Ancient civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Greeks and Romans, recognized the value of grapes, not just as food but for wine production. Over the centuries, viticulture spread across Europe, and with the age of exploration, to North America. In Alberta, the colder climate historically posed challenges to grape farming. However, with the advent of cold-hardy grape varieties and innovative farming techniques, the Alberta grape and wine industry, though niche, is showing promising growth and resilience.
Fresh grapes are a delight on their own, but their culinary versatility is broad. They can be roasted to concentrate their sweetness, making them a great companion to roasted meats or salads. When frozen, grapes turn into bite-sized sorbets, a cool treat for summer. Grape juice, with its sweet and tart profile, is a base for many beverages and sauces. And of course, grapes are paramount in winemaking, a meticulous process that extracts the juice, ferments it, and ages it to produce wines that can range from crisp whites to robust reds.
In Alberta, local vineyards are experimenting with blends and techniques suitable for the region, producing unique wines that reflect the terroir of the province. Besides wine, grapes also find their way into jellies, jams, and even vinegars, ensuring that every part of the fruit is celebrated.