Making a living doing something you’re passionate about is an aspiration many Canadians share, and an exciting reality for four Ontario women entrepreneurs who own craft wine making businesses in their communities. Twenty years ago, Michele Hirst was en route to starting a transportation logistics firm. But after a 24-hour road trip with her husband she decided to take his sage advice and instead, build a business around her love of great wine. Today, Michele and her husband operate the Yonge Street Winery in Aurora, which has grown into a three-shop complex that offers craft wine making, wine storage systems, wine accessories and upscale kitchenware. “I can’t imagine that if I was doing anything else, I would love coming to work as much as I do,” said Michele. “No day is ever the same when you own your own business, but to come to work every day and truly love it is absolutely amazing.”
Craft wine shop owners and sisters Jennifer Chamberlain and Sarah Cranley agree their entrepreneurial journey at The Wine Shoppe on Park in Peterborough has been a rewarding adventure. Together, the two women invested $150,000 in extensive renovations and moved the business to a new location last year, at the same time they were taking over full ownership of the craft wine making store from their parents. “It’s exciting to know that we’ve been able to carry a family business into a second generation,” explains Jennifer. Meanwhile, that kind of growth and longevity is exactly what Cathy Clark has her sights set on. She purchased Wines Unlimited in Oakville in October 2012 with just two weeks to learn the business from the previous owner. “It was the steepest learning curve I’ve ever had, but I absolutely loved it,” says Cathy. “I’ve lost track of how many new clients we’ve gotten since I took over, though it’s over 200.”
All three stores are members of the RJS Craft Winemaking Academy, a group of over 100 independently owned stores across Canada committed to providing the best possible craft wine making experience and high quality craft wines to their customers. Canadians who dream of backyard vineyards and well-stocked wine cellars are now learning and enjoying a personalized experience of craft wine making at the hands of these wine industry aficionados. Using wine juices and concentrates carefully selected from the world’s leading wine regions, RJS Craft Winemaking kits offer everything from the most sought after varietals like Pinot Grigio and Merlot to more obscure wines like South African Pinotage and Verdiccho. “It’s a community of people looking to make the best wine they can, not just the least inexpensive,” explains Michele.
Being part of the Academy also means having a direct line of support from their partners at RJS Craft Winemaking, which is both a supplier and helpful resource to many Academy retailers. “I’ve really benefitted from my representative’s experience, especially as I look to expand,” said Cathy. “For me the ultimate dream is to open a wine bar that serves craft wine. Having something like that in Oakville would be superb.”