Twenty-five years ago, Brian Jackson answered a tiny classified ad looking for franchisees for a make-your-own wine and beer store.
He and his wife, Evelyne, packed up their two babies (a six-month-old and a two-and-a-half year-old) and made the move from Dartmouth to Truro.
They opened the doors of Water’n’Wine on Nov. 9, 1994, selling make-your-own wine and brew-your-own beer kits to customers who were curious about a DIY approach. They even taught in-store seminars for first-time winemakers, teaching them how to clean the equipment and start their batch.
But the franchise dissolved just six months after he and Evelyne opened their store. The couple decided to keep the Water’n’Wine name and continue as an independent business, and the rest is (tasty) history.
While the business did well selling make-it-at-home beer and wine kits, the game changed seven years ago when Evelyne and Brian worked to help change provincial legislations so it was legal to help their customers make wine and beer in the store.
“There’s no heavy lifting. There isn’t the hassle of washing bottles and sterilizing equipment — we take care of all of that,” says Evelyne. “All the work is done for the customer. They just get to help with the fun part!”
She says customers love coming in when their wine or beer is ready to be bottled. The process only takes about half an hour, and they have state-of-the-art equipment that makes it easy (and fun) to fill, cork, seal and label bottles.
Whether it’s at home or in the store, she says winemaking technology has improved significantly over the last 10 years. Quality wine comes from a quality kit, so Water’n’Wine sells wine kits made by companies that are a part of major wine conglomerates like Arterra and Andrew Peller.
“Many of our customers know their wine well and they want to make quality wine, so we picked the best companies you could get,” says Evelyne. “People are amazed by the quality of wines that is available now.”
Once a customer chooses a wine, they just need to sprinkle the yeast into the juice and the Water’n’Wine team takes care of the rest. Don’t worry about not liking the finished product, because Evelyne says the kits carry a 100 per cent satisfaction guarantee.
“When we make it, we expect it to be on par with something we could go buy in the liquor store,” says Evelyne. “We can say ‘If you normally buy this wine, this one will be very similar’ — and it will be.”
She says Water’n’Wine sells classic brew-your-own-beer kits by Coopers and Muntons so folks can “make beer the way their dads did.” They’ve also expanded to kits with partial mashes — giving you a finished product that’s closer to craft beer — and some of their customers make beer entirely from scratch using grain and hops. Cider-loving customers can purchase ingredients for that, too.
The Fundy Trail Centre on Robie Street has been Water’n’Wine’s home since Day 1, although they’ve moved twice within the building. The shop is a social, friendly place where there are always regular customers dropping by to see what’s new and first-time customers who are curious about how to get started.
“We’ll ask them what they like to drink, and then we’ll help them match what they usually buy as closely as possible with a homemade or store-made version,” says Evelyne. “It’s all about making people feel at home and having some fun. We’re all beer-drinkers or wine-drinkers — or both — so we’re always happy to share our favourites and discuss the process.”
All eight of Water’n’Wine’s employees will be celebrating with cake for their customers on their official anniversary of Nov. 9, but it’s certainly not the only party of the year. They do wine and beer tastings periodically and hosted a wine gala earlier this month.
Evelyne says it’s hard to believe it’s been a full 25 years since they first opened the doors. The two babies they had when the store opened are now all grown up, plus they’ve had two more children — and all four of them have worked in the store at one point or another. Evelyne and Brian’s eldest, Eric, is now their marketing coordinator.
Aside from the family in the business, Evelyne also acknowledges how instrumental her team members have been in taking the business to where it is today. “We couldn’t have done this without the people who work with us every day.”
They have loyal customers who’ve been coming in since Water’n’Wine’s very first week of business back in 1994, and in return, Evelyne and Brian have immersed themselves in the community by supporting local causes and fundraisers.
“We’re so thankful for our customers. We’d be nothing without the people who have supported us for all these years,” says Evelyne. “I still walk down the street and people will go ‘Oh! It’s the wine lady!’”