If you’re old enough to remember late 1970s- early 1980s pop culture, the advertising slogan “Riunite on Ice” might ring a few bells. As part of its family of offerings, the Italian winery made Lambrusco, a sparkling red, that was advertised as fruity, easy-drinking and cheap. The darn “Ruinite on ice, that’s nice” jingle was an earworm, years before humans ever came up with the term, “earworm.”
There have been a few restaurants that have served Lambrusco, but it’s never really been popular with Canadians — or taken very seriously. But Edmonton entrepreneur Moirae Choquette is trying to change all of that. Working with an estate winery in the Emilio-Romagna region of Italy, she’s launched Tomato Wheels, a lambrusco that is now available at liquor outlets throughout Alberta.
“It still has that sort of reputation in North America,” says Choquette. “My goal is to introduce consumers to high-quality lambrusco.”
This isn’t just a story about sparkling red wine, though. It’s about a pandemic pivot. When Choquette launched the Tomato Wheels brand pre-pandemic, she wanted to go into the Italian spice-importing business. She had a scholarship opportunity to go to Italy and learn from famed celebrity chef David Chang. But then, travel restrictions were instituted by governments around the world. Suppliers dried up. And the spice company failed fast.
But, Choquette also fell in love with lambrusco — the really good stuff. But, she couldn’t find it in Canada, so she resorted to making her own version of it at home — red wine mixed with club soda. Yep, you read that right.
And, recognizing that there are tens of thousands of wines available on the Canadian market, of which only a handful are lambrusco offerings, she saw her opportunity. She worked with sommelier Brad Royale to blind taste-test Italian vintages. And she made the call to a family-run vineyard in central Italy, with a bold plan — to allow a woman from Edmonton to brand and market its lambrusco in North America. And a partnership was born.
Then came the matter of the bottles. The art on the labels was painted by Lee Krek, and Choquette said it was important to have a clear bottle, so the customer can see the “ruby red, purplish” hue of the drink. No wrappers were placed around the cork, because Choquette saw that as being wasteful.
Tomato Wheels is available in Alberta, and Choquette is working on getting it into Saskatchewan outlets, as well. Then, British Columbia and Ontario are on her radar and, eventually, the United States. With each province having its own liquor laws and retail systems, it’s very complex for a Canadian importer to try and make bottles available in different parts of the country.
“But I think it goes well with everything,” Choquette says. “I say that it’s a wine that you can sip eight days a week.”
And, she says it makes for a heck of a sundae. Pour lambrusco over vanilla ice cream and, voila.
Choquette hopes to launch different varieties of lambrusco, as well. Once Tomato Wheels is more established, she’d like to bottle a bolder lambrusco with a taste she admits “is not for everyone.” She’d like to make an easier drinking, “summer patio” variety available, as well.
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