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Wine that tastes of Trinidad
“I don’t buy whisky, neither strong rum
It is against my religion.
I have home-made wine of all description
Boy yuh could sample any one.
I have citrus, hibiscus, bande root, passion fruit, ti marie, strawberry, aloes and cane!”
Homemade Wine, Scrunter
Making home-made wine for Christmas, is a tradition for many across T&T. Tobagonians boast about the dasheen root, bayleaf, garlic and aniseed wine under the label A Taste of Tobago while in Maraval, the label Paramin Wine produces a range of wines made from local fruit.Enter 34-year-old vinter Laura Superville, who has her sights set beyond Christmas to the international market with her brand 11DegN (11 Degrees North). The St Joseph’s Convent old girl started wine making as an experiment a few years ago, and now she’s sending her fruity vino as far as Thailand. Superville spoke to T&T Guardian’s Bobie-Lee Dixon about the strides her Chaguanas-based company has made recently.
Q: When did you start making wine and why?
A: I started making wine in 2010 out of curiosity; I was experimenting to determine whether I was good at it.
The aroma and taste of tropical and exotic fruits such as sorrel, pommerac, starfruit (five finger) and mango are widely sort after. There is no wine industry of any kind in T&T. Local fruit wine manufacturing is conventionally a rare find. Consumption of, or exposure to local fruit wine is usually on a domestic level and the probability of experiencing that is also very slim.
What’s the story behind the name 11 Degrees North?
11DegN is a construct from the geographic position of T&T. The philosophy of wine making places a lot of importance on the terroir (the environmental factors that affect a varietal phenotype), and in our case the quality of fruit used to produce wines. Research has shown that changes in soil type, organic content, biodynamic soil interaction, and the distance from the equator (which dictates temperature) all impact nuances in the wine quality. T&T has a unique environment and wealth of natural resources for producing fruits, flowers and spices used in the wine production. The brand 11DegN indicates place of origin, it demonstrates that the sensory evaluation, richness, texture, complexity and vibrancy of wines are due to the inputs from this location.
How easy is it to source your fruit?
We source fruit from estates. Sourcing fruit is challenging, fruit are hand-picked and sorted. Only the best fruit make it to fermentation. The type of fruit used will impact the quality of the wine, therefore fruits with faults cannot be used as this may taint wines. We have to optimise harvesting during fruiting season. Seasons are usually very short and trees quickly go out of fruit production. Usually harvest seasons are predictable, however, with climate change and the change in the rainfall patterns, the fruiting seasons are also changing. This now requires more monitoring and fast mobilisation of the harvest team in order to harvest the quantity of fruit required.
What are some of the best sellers?
There are five flavours - sorrel, pommerac, five finger, cashew and jamun. There is something about Trinis, Sorrel and Christmas. Sorrel is our fastest seller between November and December. However from January to October, the data shows people prefer different flavours. Within the suite of flavours, no one flavour out performs the other (outside of the Christmas season).
What makes your wine stand out from other local wines and the international wines?
11Deg N stands out because of the adherence to the pillars of traditional wine making techniques, our commitment to producing a world class product, allowing the force of nature to dominate the process and the natural (terroir) flavours to be clearly expressed. 11DegN reflects the strengths of the terroir, deep mineral rich soils, moderately high rainfall and warm tropical temperatures. 11DegN will be differentiated by quality, consistency, international “look and feel” and can be benchmarked against international fruit wines. I do not assume I have arrived at a finished product line, improving, enhancing and offering the consumer something new and exciting is constant.
Did you receive formal training in wine making or are you self taught?
Yes, I have attended several wine making courses and took study tours to award winning wine producing regions. I also read a lot, watch videos to acquire as much knowledge as possible to assist in building a robust brand and producing a fantastic global product. Wine making process is an art and a science; experience is often the only source of such knowledge, therefore I experiment a lot. I have a competent understanding of the whole fruit wine making process from fruit growing to production.
Can you walk us through your wine making process?
Fruits are hand-picked from different estates throughout the country. Fruits are sorted, cleaned and transported to the crusher or boiler and processed. Yeast and other additives of precise measurements are added to crush fruit and sterilised to produce the must to begin primary fermentation. Analytical testing is performed on the must and documented for the pH, degrees of brix and specific gravity; adjustments are made to the must where needed to ensure the desired alcohol content and the final product is well balanced. Seeds, stems, and skins are placed back in the holding bins for use as mulch. The wine is racked (racking means to siphon the wine from one container to another, to leave the sediment behind) after primary fermentation ends and secondary fermentation begins. The wine is racked periodically to remove sediment. A taste test and visual monitoring for clarity will be performed simultaneously with racking. Each fruit wine will be aged for 12 months in stainless steel tanks then filtered and stabilised for bottling. The sorrel and jamun wines are aged in American Oak of medium toast, which increases complexity and adds length and flavour to wines.
Is wine making a full time thing or is it your side venture?
At the moment, I am unable to dedicate 100 per cent of my time to 11DegN; in order to sustain myself, I work full time.
I conduct wine activities on some afternoons and every weekend. I have a small fantastic team which supports and shares the vision for 11DegN which helps in balancing responsibilities. The process of wine making is time consuming, in addition to the fact we age our wines for nothing less than 12 months to allow the wines time to express themselves.
Is it lucrative?
It is a very capital intensive venture, at moment it is not lucrative and will not be for years to come. We are still building the foundation. The focus will be on the regional and global market as the local market is too small for niche products for generating even modest returns on investment.
What are the challenges and the benefits?
Challenges are time and money. I have a very time
demanding schedule; my day starts at 4 am and ends at 9pm. Activities require precision planning. We are ready to take 11DegN to the next level but we lack the financial resources to do so. To date, savings from directors have been used to start up the business and expand to our current situation. Any money we earn from sales is reinvested by purchasing equipment.
The benefits? There’s always wine at my house! I have gained new skills, a new network, I have a great friends and family who support my vision and I am never bored.
How are your Christmas orders coming? Has the recession affected you?
Orders have started coming. Our sorrel wines were a hit last year, we were unable to meet the demand. We hoping we are able to meet the demand this year. Sales have slowed somewhat, however, there are more merchants carrying our wines therefore we are demonstrating slow growth.
How does the cost of 11DegN compare to other wines?
For a boutique wine collection that is multi-layered, smooth, crisp and bursting with fruity aromas. The cost is on par with medium range wine. The price varies by wine merchant and can go from TT$125-$150.
Where can wine lovers get a bottle?
11DegN hopes to inspire a sense of national pride by allowing and encouraging people to share a high quality product from our native country and culture. This speciality product is available in selected restaurants, wine bars, gourmet shops, wine festivals and special events. You can find 11DegN at Bottle Stop, Uncorked, Time To Wine, Sweet Nothings and Stetchers to name a some locations. By special request 11DegN has also served customers in New York, Malaysia, London, St Lucia, Suriname, Miami and Thailand.
For more information see Facebook page 11Degrees North.