Buy wine made in Port St Mary?
You can almost hear the wine snobs having an apoplexy. But, as the Examiner discovered, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and the wine is actually rather good…
Ventosus Micro Winery might be a new venture but Rob Matson, who founded the business with his wife, Sarah, has been making wine since 2007.
Where he used to live, near Lingfield Park racecourse, in Surrey, the climate was good enough for him to make it, as a hobby, from his own grapes.
But it became so popular among his friends that he couldn’t fulfil the demand using what he grew himself and he began to source grape juice from around the world.
Rob says: ‘I got very lucky. We’ve got a great UK-based distributor that allowed me to buy very much smaller quantities of juice than you can normally buy and that’s where it started from so we took it from there.
‘We made lots of wine in the UK and did lots of tastings in London and the southeast and then we moved here during Covid, in August 2020.’
Sarah is Manx, from the south of the island, and the couple had long planned to make the move to live here, but they hadn’t intended to start a business.
All this changed when a friend who owns a local wine bar asked if he could try some of their wine.
‘So we dropped off a few bottles and, unbeknown to us, he did a blind tasting with lots of people at the wine bar. And then he came back to us and said: “It’s absolutely fantastic - are you going to make it over here”.
‘We told him we hadn’t thought about it, and he literally said: “You ought to think about this”.’
They went ahead, with support from the Department for Enterprise Micro Business Scheme which they say was ‘a really great stepping stone to get you into business’.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture also got involved as Rob and Sarah were keen to be awarded the Isle of Man Provenance label as a local producer and DEFA were equally keen because although the island has some excellent beer, cider and spirit producers there has been no one producing what Sarah calls ‘your everyday still wines’.
It all came together when Ventosus wines officially launched at last year’s Isle of Man Food & Drink festival where they supplied all the wines.
‘That was fantastic. The Food & Drink Festival really put us on the map,’ says Rob.
There is nothing new about the idea of small commercial wineries kaing wines using grape juice.
Sarah explains: ‘The concept around a micro winery is that you make the wine but without growing the ingredients.’
The official production capacity, which they are building up to at their winery in Port St Mary is around 800 bottles a month. They do a range of eight different wines: three reds four whites and a rose. The grape juice for each wine comes from exactly where you might expect the best grapes for that particular wine to be grown. The juice for the Cabernet Shiraz, for example, comes from Australia; the Pinot Grigio juice from Italy, and the juice for the white Burgundy from France.
‘We’re importing from six or seven different countries now,’ says Rob.
The grape juice arrives in large 750kg palettes. Rob says: ‘We’ve got some juice coming in this afternoon. That will go straight in the bins where fermentation takes about two to three weeks depending on the time of year – longer in the winter because wine doesn’t like being cold –and, as the yeast consumes the sugars, the yeast dies.
Then it is gravity dropped into steel barrels on the floor below where it sits for another 2-3 weeks. It is then technically ‘ready’ but it needs to mature to be properly drinkable so it then goes into large storage bins which are labelled with the type of wine and the date.
Sarah says: ‘If its’s a white or a rose it sits in those for about three to four months and if it’s a red it’s usually about seven to eight months.’
The wine is then bottled and labelled, it sits for at least another month because it can get ‘bottle shock’, which is a bit like the opposite of when you allow a wine to ‘breathe’ before you drink it, as Rob explains.
Sarah says: ‘None of our wines are more than 12.5% which is great, especially with the reds, because you get all the flavours coming through without any afterburn.’
Rob agrees, saying: ‘We’ve spent a lot of time over the last two years while we’ve been building the winery just balancing our juice and the alcohol content to make sure all our wines are very palatable.’
Sarah adds: ‘Rob’s stripped the process right back to be as natural as possible.’
All the branding and design has been done by local talent, Ali Hodgson.
Ventosus is Latin and loosley translated, means ‘windy’. By sheer coincidence, the logo Ali has come up with not only closely resembles the triskellion, its is also the ancient symbol for wind.
Ventosus wines are in a range of restaurants and retail outlets around the island, including Titan and Tacoma restaurants, Milntown, Ramsey Park Hotel, The Deli at Tynwlad Mills and H&B’s Vino outlet. There are also plans for them to have a stand at the summer’s agriculturals shows next the Isle of Man Creamery, who are delighted to now have locally produced wines to pair with their cheeses.
When I ask them what their personal favourite wines are from their range Sarah says: ‘I’m a white drinker and mine is the Semillon Chardonnay’ whilst Rob plumps for their Pinot Noir.
I try some of their Pinot Grigio – it’s all just part of the job! – and I have to say it’s really rather good with a very rounded flavour.
As Rob suggests: ‘We always say to people: “Just try it”, because it’s not about where it’s from, it’s about whether you like it or not.’