WINCHESTER — Shawn Brownlee knows how to uncork a great wedding. And it starts with “putting on” batches of affordable wine well before your big day.
Now’s the time to visit The Town Vintner if a summer wedding is in order.
The affable co-owner and spokesman extraordinaire for the Winchester business assists at every step of the process to make winemaking as fun and easy as possible — from starting the fermentation to bottling the final product.
“If you can give red wine at least six months in the bottle, that’s preferred,” says Brownlee at the recently expanded do-it-yourself winemaking shop at 614 St. Lawrence Street — operated in partnership with his wife, Irene — where he’s surrounded by a broad selection of kit wines ready to be turned into wonderful vintages.
“At least come in and talk to me about it. You should be talking to your wine guy at the same time you’re talking to your bridal boutique about your wedding dress,” he says. “The longer [the lead time], the better.”
And it’s a better deal than sidling up to the checkout counter at the local LCBO. “Our wines start at $89 for 30 bottles,” he points out. “The math is pretty straightforward.”
“My most expensive bottle of wine works out to $7.”
Rehearsals, bridesmaids get-togethers and gift openings — not to mention the wedding reception — are all occasions for enjoying a selection of wines with friends and family.
“A traditional red and a white for the meal,” advises Brownlee, “and a sweet wine for the girls and the rehearsal and the rest of it.”
He sees a wedding trend toward varieties that aren’t as dry to begin with — slightly sweet or “off-dry” — appealing to the younger segment and “folks in the group who aren’t wine drinkers.” Available in both red and white, he compares these kits to the popular Apothic wine brand at the liquor store. With 50 available types in that particular category alone at The Town Vintner, he highlights kits by Diablo Rojo as having attracted some attention lately. “I’ve had a couple of young people come in and put it on for their wedding because they were fairly positive they didn’t want a dry wine,” Brownlee says, comparing the sweetness level to a half teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee. “It’s just enough to take the sharp off.”
“But pretty well any kind of red or white wine is available here in both dry and off-dry,” he points out.
Since relocating to much bigger digs last fall — three years after buying the business from the original owner — the proprietors have been able to triple production as well as increase available lines of wine by 30 percent in the spacious showroom.
Among others, the Winexpert line is new, and they’ve greatly expanded their in-stock offerings of the Cellar Craft brand as well. Legacy is another name they’ve always carried — once at the top end but now closer to an entry-level product in the expanded inventory. And they’ve also brought aboard more dessert and ice wines, according to Brownlee. (But no champagne, he says, because the classic bubbly relies on techniques requiring expensive refrigeration and other specialized equipment.)
Personalized labels and “shrinks” (the wrapping at the top of the bottle) are another benefit of making and bottling your own wine, and these are thrown in for free at The Town Vintner, where clients select from designs and customize the desired text online.
Making the wine requires two trips to the shop, not an onerous outlay of time. “They come in to put it on, and they come in to bottle it,” he says. “You’re looking at a commitment of 25 minutes per batch. Three batches, you’re looking at roughly an hour and a half.”
“At no point are you left dangling. I can offer as much help as you require. My story is I can help you here or I can help you there [by staying out of your way],” he says, pointing to a spot on the other side of the room, then jokingly, adds, “Most people find me entertaining enough that I can stay.”
He also helps to wheel out all of those completed bottles to the customer’s car — a simple task with doorways at ground level (and thus handicapped accessible as well).
And it’s all handled with small-town friendliness, yet in a shop as large as any player in the wine-making sector in the neighbouring City of Ottawa.
Also be sure to check out their bottles of ‘The Town Vintner’ balsamic vinegar (made by Olive-Me & Co.) and handmade tea towels crafted by a local Mennonite woman.