An intimate picnic and dinner set in a fruit orchard are two of the loveliest ways to spend a day at Over the Hill Orchards and Winery in Saskatchewan.
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Over the Hill Orchards and Winery
This province is known for its rolling wheatfields, thousands of lakes and swath of northern Boreal Forest. Yet unexpectedly, Over the Hill Orchards and Winery near Lumsden has carved out an organic fruit orchard on the gently rolling hillside of the Qu’Appelle Valley above Wascana Creek.
In 2000, husband and wife duo Dean and Sylvia Kreutzer left their careers behind in Regina and purchased 40 acres of land in the pursuit of breeding exotic fruits in Saskatchewan’s cooler climate and short growing season. While Saskatchewan is often known for fruit like saskatoons and cranberries, what the Kreutzers are growing – figs, nectarines, plums, peaches, pears, apricots, grapes and even almonds – are unheard of in the region.
The reward of propagating these types of fruit and plants is a slow one. It takes
years decades and numerous iterations of cross-pollinating variations to breed successful plants, bushes and trees. Not to mention being at the mercy of Mother Nature through years of droughts, early frost and unexpected snowfalls.
Why, you might ask, do the Kreutzer’s go to all the trouble, effort and often, the heartbreak, of it all? Well, for Dean, it was about finding his passion and demanding more from life. He wanted to figure out how to leave a beautiful legacy behind for others through a positive and lasting impact on the environment.
Through education, experimentation and a lot of patience and resilience, the Kreutzers have made forward progress with their orchard.
Today, Over the Hill is known for their specialty fruit spreads, preserves, toppings, chocolates, and yes – you can even buy fruit trees directly from their orchard. They’re also well-known for their selection of dry and semi-sweet fruit wines. They’ve won several awards and they’re also Saskatchewan’s first accredited Economusee. Originating in France, this is a highly regarded international network of artisanal businesses that welcomes tourists to see and experience their unique, local products – right where they’re produced.
During Saskatchewan’s summer months, you can drive out to the orchard for a glass of wine and piece of pie on their patio. In recent years, they’ve begun offering both picnics in the orchard as well as a special chef series on weekend evenings. It’s the perfect afternoon out with friends or a special date night with a significant other.
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Picnic in the Orchard
My partner Aaron and I drove out from Saskatoon on a sunny Friday afternoon to experience both the picnic and dinner in the orchard.
While Over the Hill is a commercial orchard and winery, the Kreutzers and their children live on the property. Upon arrival, we were not only greeted by the friendly staff, but also a few friendly felines.
Inside the main building, we picked up a picnic basket-style backpack that included everything we needed: a blanket, charcuterie board, wine glasses, cutlery and cloth napkins. The picnic came with our choice of a bottle of wine. While there are three dry wines and 7 semi-sweet wines to choose from, we selected the Prairie Rhuberry. The combined rhubarb and raspberry flavour is the most popular of the wines they sell. For those concerned about having a drink and driving afterwards, there’s no pressure to finish the bottle during the picnic as staff can recork it to send home.
The charcuterie board came with bread, cheeses, local bison jerky and a spread from the fruit in the orchard. The portions were a perfect mid-afternoon snack for the two of us.
What takes this picnic to another level are the five picnic sites (specific sites can be requested when booking) to enjoy the experience. Each location has a slightly different view of the valley and Wascana Creek below. It’s only a short walk down from the outdoor patio to the viewpoints. We opted for The Vista viewpoint. Atop a knoll with a 360-degree panorama, we wanted open space and big sky views to enjoy the sun and outdoors for the hour.
New this year and near to the picnic sites is a deluxe, covered gazebo. Set on the hillside, it’s perfect for groups and can be rented by the hour. It comes with two swivel egg chairs, tables and oversized lawn games.
While it’s no guarantee, cats may or may not be included. We were lucky and had a very friendly orange tabby curl up next to us as we picnicked. He was happy to nap by our legs in exchange for a few belly scratches. As animal lovers who currently don’t own any pets ourselves, this added to our whole experience.
Book in for a picnic here.
Supper in the Orchard
From our picnic, we headed back to the main building. We took the opportunity to learn about and sample a few different wines. We settled on a white and red respectively and headed out to enjoy it on the outdoor patio before dinner.
While Over the Hills Orchard is open Wednesday to Friday from 10 AM to 5 PM, booking in for their supper series is truly something special. Not only is it a unique experience as the Kreutzers bring in different local chefs to create a set menu on the weekends, but it’s also the only time visitors get to experience sunset in the valley.
For our evening dinner, Regina-based Chef Tim Davies prepared a simple yet classic Italian-inspired four-course menu with locally sourced foods. There is an option to include a wine pairing with the meal. Aaron and I decided to share the pairing and I highly recommend it as it wonderfully complements the dishes.
The first course was an eggplant caponata fried polenta, parsley salad. It was paired with the Gewurztraminer Semi-Sweet.
The second course was a shaved vegetable salad with honey miso dressing, crispy shallots and grana padano. The wine pairing was the Peach Chardonnay Off-Dry.
The main course was roasted chicken with pomme puree, caramelized onions and salsa verde. The wine pairing was the Cherry Pinot Noir Off-Dry.
For dessert, we had a chocolate orange cake with buttermilk cheese, and chocolate ganache and paired with Prairie Cherry Frost.
Tour of the Orchard
Between the second and third course, Dean took those interested out on a 30-minute tour to learn more about the growing process in the orchard. (The tour is optional if you prefer to soak in the sun on the patio. It’s a great opportunity to visit with friends while enjoying more wine or non-alcoholic beverages).
It was inspiring to hear about Dean’s passion and determination for breeding heartier versions of plants despite the many challenges he faces. There is a lot of creativity and patience required, particularly with an organic orchard.
With an environmental focus front and centre, the Kreutzers have creatively continued to build on their greenhouses in numerous ways. They use solar panels as well as thermal wells. A new dugout with a pond liner will enable them to harvest rainwater more effectively; an inch of rain can mean 10,000 gallons of water. Plants are started in grow bags made from recycled water bottles. And all extra fruit is sold at the local farmer’s markets.
It was also wonderful to hear how the orchard is a family enterprise. Dean’s mom helps plant seeds in the spring while his dad enjoys cutting the grass. Dean’s daughter also helps out and we met her when we were enjoying our supper.
While coming out for a glass of wine on the patio, a picnic in the orchard or a supper at sunset are all incredible experiences I would highly recommend, the (prairie) cherry on top is supporting a local business that is pushing the limits of what is possible to grow and harvest right here in Saskatchewan.
I was a guest of Over the Hill Orchards on a media trip. But the thoughts and experiences are authentically and genuinely my own.