As a wine drinker and (wine) lover, I was spoiled by the years that I lived in the United States. To this day, my recollection of the price ($5.99) we charged for Yellowtail Shiraz at the wine store I worked at keeps me from being able to swallow, and pay, the $14.85 asked for in Canada.
I know all the rationales for the difference in pricing: exchange rates, the smaller market, the concept of “sin tax” and the more realistic recognition that it’s a great source of government revenue.
The reality is that our views toward (and pricing of) alcohol align more with Scandinavian countries than the wine drinker–friendly nations of France and Italy … OK, Mr. Turner will now step down from his soapbox.
I suspect that price is one of the reasons that this country as a whole, and Whitehorse specifically, has a growing group of wine enthusiasts who are making their own wines at places like Wines By Design.
But it is by no means the only reason to pursue this activity as the effort of making your own wine, with the help of a professional like owner Coreen Wells, may yield for you a deeper appreciation for the art and science of wine making.
And it links you to a tradition dating back to before Greek civilization.
Plus, you will have the pleasure of sharing “your own” wine with friends … a treat usually reserved for families with names like the Gallos, Antinoris and Rothchilds.
Wells is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable evangelist for making your own wines. She tells me that she grew up in a wine-friendly home in the Okanagan Valley and I suspect that this contributed to setting her on the path to opening Wines By Design in 1999.
I liked her immediately as she made my first visit to her store/wine-making establishment easily understandable and welcoming.
I also immediately appreciated her viewpoint on making and consuming wine … she said to me: “Stress and wine don’t go together.”
I quickly came to believe that she applies that philosophy equally to both drinking wines as well as helping people make them.
Wines By Design offers two ways to make wines: you can either buy the supplies and make the wine yourself at home or you can work with Wells and leave your wine to ferment at the Wines By Design store.
In either case, the critical distinction (in terms or not paying all the tax normally associated with wines) is that you must bottle it yourself.
Wines By Design sells grape juice from a variety of different grapes, from the major wine-producing countries and regions of the world, including France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, California, as well as Canadian juice from BC and Ontario.
She also sells all the materials needed to change the grape juice into wine, including containers for primary and secondary fermentation, yeasts, flavouring (oak chips, etc.) as well as corks and labels that you can customize for your own vintages.
You can choose from wine kits that take 30, 45 or 60 days to complete (it sounds as though the slower fermentation approach yields wines that will age better and yield a better-quality product, though the trade off is that you will have wait longer to drink it).
While fermenting your own grape juice at home is an interesting (and sometimes sticky) experience, for a few dollars more per batch (about a 15-per-cent premium) Wines By Design will take care of all of the fermentation in a temperature and quality-controlled environment and all you have to do is come back after 30 to 60 days and bottle your wine.
Having done it at home, I can assure you it’s an inexpensive way to get a consistently better product.
Wines by Design will call you when your batch is done and you show up with about 30 empty wine bottles (start saving them now!) to bottle your wine, cork and label it and drive home with YOUR OWN WINE!
The cost of doing a batch will run you about $170 to $230, depending on the quality of grape juice you buy and whether you ferment it yourself or have them do it.
Wells tells me that when they do it, they are able to get one to two more bottles out of a batch than when people do it at home. With a batch yielding 27 to 29 bottles, your cost per bottle will be about six to eight dollars.
So is it worth it? Absolutely!
I blind tasted two Wines By Design reds with friends and was quite impressed. I had a Spanish Cabernet/Monastrell Spanish blend, made at Wines By Designs several years ago, and compared it to a Spanish Mad Dogs and Englishmen Cabernet/Monastrell/Shiraz that I bought at the liquor store for $16.50.
We served the wines with rack of lamb and both were a delight. My friend told me that she would not have been able to distinguish the Wines By Design offering from the store-bought one.
We both found the Wines By Design to have good, red, fruit flavours (think red currants), some hints of what almost reminded me of sun-baked dust and leather, and some depth and complexity of flavours (a result of the blend of the Cabernet and Monastrell grape juices) and a nice finish, with the tanic flavour that I enjoy, particularly when served with roast meats.
I would say that the store-bought had the edge on bouquet (smell) but that may have been the result of the addition of the shiraz in the Mad Dogs.
As I finish this article, I am enjoying my second sampling from Wines By Design, a Cabernet/Shiraz blend, made from Australian juices. A deep purplish red hue, this has darker fruit notes as it runs across your tongue (imagine a ripe plum) but is kept from being too sweet by the crisper finish (towards the end of the tasting experience) of the Cabernet Sauvignon.
I am impressed!
I am particularly impressed when you factor in the fact that these wines cost about half of what you would pay at retail for comparable blends.
While you are not likely to match the efforts of great vineyards that create the first growth wines of Europe, or the high-priced (and spectacular) fruit bombs of California, with a little guidance from Wells at Wines By Design you could be serving a pretty respectable bottle of your own wine to a loved one and/or friends by Valentine’s Day.
And, in the process, gain a new understanding and appreciation for the 3,000-year-old art of wine making. Give it a try!