In a small kitchen at the back of her shop, Esther Ciciarelli is preparing a customer’s order. She opens up a small cardboard box and takes out a clear plastic bag containing a dense red liquid of grape concentrate and pours it into a white pail.
“This is Chilean Merlot,” she said. Knowledgeable of wine making, Ciciarelli and her brothers bought into a Wine Kitz franchise seven years ago. They have been running and operating the business at their 429 Wilson Ave. location since.
They spent their childhood watching their father make the wine.
“It’s been a part of our culture ever since we were kids. My dad would make wine straight from the grapes,” Ciciarelli said.
Each batch she makes is about 23 litres. For the Merlot she adds about 90 grams of oak chips.
“The majority of red wine has oak chips which really complements the aroma and flavour of the wine,” she said.
Oak chips can be added anytime before bottling the wine, but Ciciarelli recommends adding them during fermentation.
“The longer the chips are integrated, the more character it will give your drink,” she added.
For 17 years Charles Fajgenbaum helped wine lovers enjoy the winemaking experience.
Fajgenbaum, 52, owns and operates Fermentations, which sells winemaking products. That’s not where his DIY career in spirit began, however. He recalls the first drink he made was beer.
“I was 16-years old when I made my first batch at home and it drove my parents crazy. My mother wondered what the heck I (was) doing.” he said.
The process of making the wine provide the initial motivation for making the beverage.
“I’ve always been a bit of a science geek and...I looked at it as a science process not an art process,” he added.
Fajgenbaum worked in the sales and marketing department for a pharmaceutical company, and prior to opening Fermentations winemaking was only a hobby. Enjoying a great glass of wine was Fajgenbaum’s inspiration for starting his own business.
“Everybody (the winemaking industry) was trying to make things as cheap as possible not as good as possible,” he explained.
One technique he uses is adding fresh grape juice rather than concentrate. “By the time you transform the heck out of something it’s been so transformed from what it’s supposed to be,” he explained.
Although the majority of their customers place an order, Ciciarelli said they still have a few customers who buy a batch of wine to make at home, and do so for economic reasons.
“When you buy a bottle of wine from the LCBO, 59 per cent tax is incorporated in the bottle you’re buying,” she said.
Keith Nickleson, a teacher, has been making homemade wine for 15 years, and credits this to the savings he gets.
“When I make my own bottle at home the whole thing only costs about $4,” Nickleson said.
For some people winemaking is not only a passion, but also a family tradition.
Al Toste watched his parents make wine. He said that his favourite part of the experience is the fermentation.
“The fermentation releases the smell of the wine and the aroma of it, and to me that’s a good experience,” Toste said. “That’s when you know you’ve made a good wine.”
Like Toste, Fajgenbaum enjoys the process, but said the most rewarding part for him is when he actually tastes the finished product.
“I know people who are cabinet makers, and after all the nailing and sawing is done, you know the piece of furniture is complete,” Fajgenbaum said.
“It’s the same thing with wine you have to enjoy the process, but it’s nice to know you also have a great end result.”