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Falmouth’s Sainte-Famille winery finds new market in China

thechronicleherald.ca by BILL SPURR22/09/2017  

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Suzanne Corkum, owner of Sainte-Famille winery in Falmouth, has exported a container load of blueberry wine to China. Corkum’s granddaughter Lauren Lake, left, and daughter Tracy Lake, right, are taking over the winery. (Bill Spurr/The Chronicle Herald)

The new recipe for success at Sainte-Famille Wines in Falmouth includes measures of risk, acumen and luck.

Founder Suzanne Corkum is gradually turning the operation over to daughter Tracy Lake and granddaughter Lauren Lake, and the trio’s current venture is exporting blueberry wine to China.

“We made blueberry wine and it happened to be really good, so it kind of took off. Ours was sort of touted as being the best, whether by the taste of it or the fact it’s not watered down. It’s really pure. We use only the best berries we can find and it works for us,” Lauren Lake said. “Exporting wasn’t something we were looking to explore, it was kind of a happy accident and then we realized there was a market for it, specifically in China.

“We’ve had several interactions with potential customers in the last year, so we saw the potential and we knew it would only be a matter of time before we had a customer. We took a leap of faith and mass-produced blueberry wine so we would have it here and ready to go when a customer came on board.”

Sainte-Famille’s first shipment of wine made from wild Nova Scotia blueberries, 11,520 bottles on 10 pallets filling one container, left the port of Halifax on Aug. 10 and is due in China “any day.”

They worked with Export Canada, NSBI and Taste of Nova Scotia to learn to cut through red tape, and consulted regularly with the folks at Acadian Maple, who have made exporting a big part of their business.

“So we just kept exploring that, homing in and focusing on that market. But to be honest with you, the 20-foot container that we just shipped to China — they found us. They were looking for blueberry wine and because of our reputation in the province they gravitated toward us and sought us out,” Lake said.

“For us, it’s not typical. We don’t have large customers like this so there’s a little bit of walking on eggshells. They’re basically our meal ticket. A small, boutique winery making a sale of 11,000 bottles of wine is a big deal. We’re a 5,000-case winery, basically, and 960 cases are on that container.”

The wine was made from berries harvested last fall by a small farm in Debert. With a glut of blueberries on the market, it’s the perfect time to sell wine made from them, at $15.75 a bottle here.

“The price of blueberries is relatively low, so we get them for a good price. That’ll only last as the bumper crop of blueberries lasts. Once there aren’t back years (of inventory) in freezers, then the price of berries will go up and our costs will go up. But we will always source local because that’s one of the things we can tout, is that it’s from Nova Scotia wild blueberries,” Lake said.

“We don’t know what the end-retail price will be, but because it’s deemed a prestige wine we assume it could go for anywhere between $50 and $100 a bottle. That’s what the market tells us, and what our customer has alluded to. They’re probably never going to tell us what it retails for.

“We have a meeting this weekend to discuss a further relationship. They’re flying here to meet with us.”

If the new partnership develops to the point that there are orders for two or three containers a year, it would be a game-changer for Sainte-Famille.

“We might have to shift our focus a little bit from the manufacturing standpoint because we are still a grape winery, we’re not a fruit winery, and we’d like to maintain that, with blueberry a side business,” said Lake.

“It’ll mean expansion. We’ll need more tanks. If this blueberry thing really takes off to two or three shipments a year, it means we might need to have a whole blueberry division, which means hiring more staff to help the winemaker.”