By Brian Lawrence
Nearly 20 years ago, I read in the Creston Valley Advance that Al and Marleen Hoag had planted the vineyard at Skimmerhorn Estate Winery. Now, with four wineries, a distillery and a microbrewery, the Creston Valley is definitely more than an up-and-comer — I'm so excited to see such a variety!
Those six craft liquor makers — Skimmerhorn, Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery, Wild North Brewing Co., Red Bird Estate Winery, Wynnwood Cellars and Wynndel Craft Distilleries — have joined forces this summer for the Creston Libations Tour.
“People think it’s awesome, especially with that many places to go,” says Lisa Wood, who owns Wild North with her husband, Craig. “The more we have here, the more people come and stay.”
To join in the fun, tour participants can pick up a passport at each location or the Visitor Centre. Those with passports stamped from a visit to all six locations will then have a chance to win a prize pack with items from each producer in draws held at the end of July and August.
“We’re not competing — we’re collaborating with other businesses,” says Lisa.
New Brew in Town
Lisa and Craig joined with four partners (Tyler Mailhot, Jon Haberstock, Mark Hug and Aaron Groenhuysen) to add a 2,200-square-foot brewery to the former Greyhound bus station at 125 16th Ave. N. and opened in May 2021.
They have eight beers on tap, two rotating plus a core of six, including an IPA and porter, developed under the watchful eye of brewer Casey Staple. The popularity has expanded beyond their own shop, with Wild North being served in other Creston establishments and throughout southeastern B.C. from Fernie to Grand Forks.
For those outside Creston, Wild North may just be a great beer, but for locals, part of Wild North’s draw is that it’s not simply a place to go and drink. Patrons are encouraged to bring in any takeout food, made easy with the Kimchi Kitchen food truck just steps away five days a week, as well as their families — there are baskets of board games on hand.
“We consider it a nighttime coffee shop,” says Lisa. “It’s not a bar feel.”
If the atmosphere sounds fantastic, rest assured that it is, and so is the beer — I’ll personally vouch for the Darkwoods porter — but don’t miss the other locations on the Creston Libations Tour.
Five More Stops
•Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery takes its name from pioneer and adventurer William Baillie-Grohman, who envisioned the marshy Creston Valley flats being diked and developed into farmland. Owned by winemaker Wes Johnson, son of founders Bob Johnson and Petra Flaa, and managing director Myran Hagenfeldt, the most recent planting includes three Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and a Creston Valley newcomer, Cabernet Franc.
•Red Bird Estate Winery recently received a silver medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships for its Pinot Gris. In addition to sales at their store, they also offer a wine club, with a 12-bottle shipment sent each May and October. For owners Shannon & Rémi Cardinal, Creston’s relaxed pace, mild climate and numerous outdoor adventures were “the perfect blend to start our winery, and also raise our family.”
•Calgarians Ryan Burgis and Janek Guminski bought Skimmerhorn Estate Winery from original owners Al and Marleen Hoag in 2017 after falling in love with the Creston Valley. The small batch winery produces 4,500 cases a year, utilizing grapes grown solely on the 20-acre property. Award-winning winemaker James Cambridge hopes to “bring my years of experience to elevate the aromatic profile of the white wines and elegance to the reds.”
Just north of Creston is the community of Wynndel, where the final Creston Libations Tour locations can be found.
•Michael Wigen founded Wynndel Cellars and named it for the nearby sawmill his family started as Wynndel Box and Lumber in 1913. The winery overlooks Duck Lake from its east shore, the perfect spot for a vineyard. “The afternoon sun reflects off the lake, intensifying light on the vines,” says the winery’s website. “Some of the worlds greatest vineyards in Europe lie adjacent to a body of water.”
•Wynndel Craft Distilleries opened its doors in 2017, using the Creston Valley’s bounty of fresh fruits, such as apples, cherries and peaches, as inspiration for spirits that include brandy, gin and vodka. “We thrive on creating unique one-of-a-kind spirits that speak to the true nature of our surroundings,” says the website.
Whether visiting a location for a relaxing drink, a quick tasting or a bite to eat, rest assured that friendly faces will be there to greet you. For Lisa and Craig, that’s why they’re in the business. “Both of us are people people,” says Lisa. “We love it when people come in and chat, and we love the sense of community in the place. The beer is just extra.”
Freelance writer Brian Lawrence is a former editor and publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and trail running, and acting in and directing productions with Creston's Footlighters Theatre Society.