Wine Without Grapes â€“ It is Possible, and Delicious!
By: Esther Rubio-Sheffrey Â
When it comes to choosing an alcoholic beverage with which to relax on a hot summer day, most people go with a cold beer or a cocktail. Wine, with the exception of a chilled white, rarely comes to mind because its flavors do not tend to quench a summerâ€™s thirst.
Do not misunderstand. A good bottle of wine can make or break a great meal or, at times, even be the meal itself. It is also not to say that my latest discovery cannot be paired with a delicious hearty meal, because it can be. The guys at California Fruit Wine are onto a new trend, one that all wine lovers can enjoy, even on a hot summer day.
Brian and Alan Haghighi, the two main driving forces behind California Fruit Wine, are twin brothers who grew up in San Diegoâ€™s north county area. The brothers did not reinvent the wheel, there are similar wineries nationwide, but in November of 2010, they established the first Southern California winery dedicated to making fruit wine.
Yes, grapes are fruit, and technically all wine is fruit wine, but the Haghighis make their wine from everything but grapes. California Fruit Wineâ€™s four staple flavors include cherry, peach, strawberry, and plum. By no means are these dessert wines either; they are not very sweet, they vary in dryness, and the alcohol content in all is 12.5%.
The two young entrepreneurs, who celebrated their 25th birthdays in July, have embarked on a grassroots effort to introduce their wine fruit flavors to the palates of Southern Californians, establishing one fan at a time.
The Recession Inspired Winery
Like most college graduates, in 2009, after earning his Bachelors in Political Science from Colgate University in New York, Brian found himself unemployed amid a recession. He returned home with the hope of helping his 75-year-old father launch an invention for a new kind of womenâ€™s hairbrush. It did not prove fruitful, and like his brother, Brian found himself working odd jobs to stay afloat.
A dinner party at the home of family friends Devin and Bobbi Lee SissionÂ changed everything. As a hobby, the Sissions made fruit wine in their home, and Brian was hooked with his first sip of plum wine.
â€œI immediately thought, â€˜Why isnâ€™t this in grocery stores?â€™â€ Brian recalled. â€œOur friends didnâ€™t have the time or the means to take their wine making hobby to that level, so we decided to team up.â€
In addition to learning how to make the wine, the two brothers spent the better part of a year figuring out the financials and marketing. Brianâ€™s responsibilities included extensive research on how to start a winery and obtaining the proper licensing. â€œThere were a lot of hurdles and obstacles,â€ he said. â€œThe government is not in the business of making it easy to start any business. Our biggest hurdle was lack of funds.â€
Pooling together monetary investments from the Sissions, their father, and older brother, the Haghighis figured out a way to start the winery with approximately $12,500. â€œIt has been a combination of luck and resourcefulness,â€ Brian said. For example, they found a warehouse owner willing to sign a lease agreement, so they could obtain their license without charging them rent for the use of his facility until they obtained an approval. They were also able to raise additional funds for their bottling equipment by removing unwanted equipment from other wineries, cleaning it up, and selling it for a profit.
Along the way, roles have been redefined, and the brothers have taken up many responsibilities. â€œWe have learned to do it all ourselves,â€ Brian said. â€œWe are basically the entire operation, from wine makers to the bookkeeping, and we are still doing a lot of fine tuning.â€ Still, the brothersâ€™ facility is already proving to be too small to keep up with production.
â€œWe want to saturate San Diego with our wine and have people taste something different,â€ Brian said. â€œThey might discover that they prefer something else to the traditional grape wine.â€
â€œOur primary target market is the 20 to 30-year-old crowd because they have yet to establish set expectations about wine,â€ Brian added. â€œMost people confuse fruit wine for dessert wine, or think of it as a sweet syrupy mess. The older generations seem to think of it as something similar to Booneâ€™s Farm drinks. These are the misconceptions we have to overcome.â€
Plans to expand California Fruit Wines include selling to grocery stores like Henryâ€™s and Trader Joeâ€™s, as well as expanding the facility and offering wine making courses as part of their tasting room events. â€œWe are working very hard to constantly improve our product and accessibility,â€ Brian said. â€œWe are entrepreneurs created by the recession, and our operation is entirely from the bottom up.â€
The California Fruit Wines
Although they produce four staple flavors, plans for a blackberry flavor are currently underway, and the brothers are toying around with the possibility of adding watermelon, cherry, raspberry, and possibly pineapple. The sky is the limit.
â€œThe most important thing with fruit wine is preserving the fruity characteristics,â€ Brian said. â€œWe drip dry the fruits we use and we have to ensure that we use the proper strain of yeast.â€ Out of one gallon of fruit juice, the brothers make five bottles of wine; and depending on the fruit, they use between three to six pounds of fruit per gallon. For their most recent batch, they used 1,400 pounds of peaches.
All wines have an alcohol content of 12.5% and are light-bodied. â€œMy favorite is the plum wine because it goes well with anything,â€ Brian continued. â€œThe strawberry flavor is popular with the ladies, and the cherry and peach go very well with entrÃ©es that are paired with white wines, but over all, these are all very drinkable wines, perfect for an afternoon in the sun.â€
Cherry: Made from Lambert Cherries, this refreshing and crisp wine ferments slowly to preserve the fruity aromas and flavors, and the taste is off dry with a nice finish.
Peach: Made from ripe peaches grown locally in Southern California, the wine has bright peach and caramel tones, powerful aromas, and, although dry, has a lingering fruit flavor.
Strawberry: The ingredients come from Aviara Strawberry Farms in Carlsbad. This blush-colored wine has strong aromas and a slightly tart flavor balanced with a distinctive strawberry sweetness. It is perfect for a warm summer day.
Plum: Fermented slowly to build character and complexity, this wine is made using Black Friar Plums from Riverside County. Like the strawberry option, its taste is a combination of tartness and sweetness.
In addition to finding California Fruit Wines at special events throughout town, tastes are available on a weekly basis at farmers markets in North County and cost $10 for one or $15 for two. For $9.99, you can also purchase a bottle online and have it delivered anywhere in California, as well as a few other states. However, it should be noted that proof of legal drinking age is required upon delivery.
The brothers have expansion plans, but in the meantime, they hope that the California Wine reputation will spread through word-of-mouth. Do yourself a favor, get your hands on a bottle and pour yourself a glass. You will be pleasantly surprised.