News From the Vardo

Our Rwanda Project

Recently, we were approached by a lady named Petronilla seeking some advice and assistance with a project she was putting together.  After Claire and I discussed it for approximately 2 minutes, we decided to get involved.

I want to share the project with you, not for the purposes of self-congratulations, but rather to applaud the resourcefulness and commitment of the lady who came up with this idea.

Many of us sit back and see the things in the world fall apart through war, disease, greed, and so on.  However, when I heard Petronilla's idea to try and lift a group of women in Gahini, Rwanda out of poverty by helping them start a winery, I knew we had to be involved.

Gahini is a village and sector in Kayonza District, Eastern Province, Rwanda. It is situated on a hill, at an altitude of 1,520 metres above sea-level, close to the eastern edge of Lake Muhazi and 73 kilometres by road from the capital, Kigali.

Mangoes and pineapples are plentiful in this area.  Most of the wine currently produced in Africa comes from the South Africa region.  Petronilla's idea is to make use of the local fruit to make wine in Gahini and (ultimately) sell it across the African continent.

The first stage of the project will be to create, test, and perfect the recipes and techniques.  This will involve pulling together the equipment she needs and then, making small batches that can be fine tuned until they reach a state where they can be commercially reproduced.  Once that stage is cleared, the next step would be to help them to increase production.  The money generated from that can help them to expand their facilities and grow their business.

My personal involvement would be to offer business planning, marketing, and sales advice.  Since Petronilla is the expert in local government and traditions, she is the go-to person when it comes to next steps.  Our involvement will be to help launch, teach and then, advise; not to run the business.  The goal is to make the ladies that will be part of this program self-sufficient.

As with any enterprise, there are always risks, but if the initial stage reaches the point where a reasonable chance of success is likely, we will look at coordinating funding options, be that through the Government of Canada, GoFundMe, etc. to help them to ramp up the operations to the next level(s).

In the meantime, keep a good wish for Petronilla and her mission.  After all the strife Rwanda has suffered, it's nice to see people looking for ways to heal the land, the people, and of course, the Country.

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New stone on the driveway

Just a quick note to advise you to drive slowly on the the way up the laneway.  We just put down new gravel and it is still a bit loose.  Be extra careful if you are riding a motorcycle.
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Let the winemaking madness begin as soon as...

It's one of those weeks where I feel like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh; running around in circles trying to get everything organized. It's time to start making the 2012 wild blueberry wine, but the production room still needs some work. I have buckets and barrels in there because I haven't had the time to finish the cold room yet. As a business analyst/project manager (in the job that actually pays the bills), I like to have a plan. Well, several really. In the project management world, there are things called dependancies. This means that before you can do task X, you need to complete task Y. It also takes into account how long a task will take to complete. For example, it takes a minimum of 3 consecutive passes for your well to be certified potable. That means at least 3 weeks. I always thought it made sense to finish the production area before the cold room, but I am quickly beginning to see the error of that decision. Looks like that plan is going to switch around a bit, if only to make some room! I believe I will concentrate on the cold room. Once the cold room is 'done' I can move the barrels in there and free up space in the production area, which will allow me to finish the walls without having to perform gold medal gymnastics. You think jumping around with a ribbon is tough? Try it while holding a 4 X 8 sheet of gyproc... On the upside, I've discovered that I'm a lot more flexible than I previously thought. Once the walls are done, I can actually move production into the production room. Of course, visitors do seem to like seeing the barrels percolating away in the tasting room. Still, it will be nice to have things in order. At least I will be able to throw open those doors and conduct tours. Ah, back to work.
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For the love of fruit flies

It's inevitable. If you make wine, whether you make 5 gallons or 5000, you will get fruit flies. I still remember the first time I opened a fermenting barrel and was swarmed by the little beasts. I thought I was in a Hitchcock film! Faced with a bajillion fruit flies, I started researching solutions. Before I go any further, let me point out that this was my first mistake. I should have researched this WAY before. Back to the research. My first stop was the hardware store. I bought fly strips. This was my second mistake. Fly strips catch flies... and moths... and crawly thingies. They are not so good at fruit flies. In terms of esthetics, fly strips are on par with Klingon Gagh... After a day or two, I had a yellow strip of gooey paper with several flies (house flies) stuck to it. There was ONE fruit fly. I suspect it likely fly into the paper by accident after spending too much time sniffing the fumes. Back to the hardware store. By chance, they had fruit fly traps. Salvation? Not really. Turns out that fruit fly traps are fly paper in fancier boxes at twice the price. You place a piece of fruit inside the trap to lure them in. This part works. The part where you expect them to now land on the paper? Not so much. One would expect that their fat little bodies would tumble to the paper and a sticky demise. Instead, having gorged themselves on the free buffet, they fly clumsily out of the trap and find a place to sleep it off. A few hours later, they come back... with their friends. It's like a house party gone bad. After two days, the body count was 3. I could hear the little beasts laughing at me. This really hurt my feelings. Finally, I decided to ask Mr. Internet. I found a solution in some obscure farmer's blog that sounded absolutely insane; not because it involved flamethrowers or carpet bombing, but because it was incredibly simple. Naturally, being so simple, it could NOT possibly work. I laughed at this old country method thinking how could this possibly capture beasts that had so far elluded modern science. I opened a barrel to check on the wine and once again, I was swarmed. There were fruit flies EVERYWHERE. Where did I put that ridiculous fruit fly trap idea... it wasn't like I was winning this battle. What the heck. I went back to Mr. Internet and looked it up again. This time I went to the grocery store and bought a small bottle of apple cider vinegar. At home, I took a soup bowl and added about a cup of the apple cider vinegar. I stretched plastic wrap across the top and pulled it tight. I poked a few holes in the plastic wrap with a skewer and set the bowl on top of the barrel. I turned off the light and left the room. I'm sure I heard the fruit flies laugh at this new attempt. The next day, I re-entered the room, fully expecting to be hit with waves of the beasts, along with all their friends from neighbouring barrels (they must have Twitter, Facebook or something). What I saw was incredible. That bowls of apple cider vinegar had thousands (OK, maybe hundreds) of fruit flies in it! What kind of Voo-Doo was this? I was gobsmacked. Now, it was I who laughed manically! I'm sure I could hear the little beasts talking amongst themselves. Now THEY shuddered at the sight of ME! This simple farmer's trick, which cost me about $1 worth of apple cider vinegar, took out more fruit flies in a day than modern science's marvels (at about $20) could do in a week. As a bonus, it was a 100% non-toxic solution. It was so effective, I had to empty the bowl and set a new trap out. Within 2 days, the number of fruit flies was next to none. I now leave these marvels of everywhere when we start a new barrel. I leave a couple on the counter in the tasting room, discretely hidden behind ice buckets. The moral is, of course, if it's worked for 200 or 300 years, chances are it might still work. Now you know as well. Happy hunting! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever-patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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When vacation simply isn't enough

Ah vacation... back to reality It's really strange to be back after a week off. Strange because I'm tired, but my thoughts are still in the "I'll just take another nap this afternoon" mode even though that's really not a possibility today. Despite being 'on vacation', I still opened the winery on the Saturday and Sunday, albeit at reduced hours. Next year, I'll be hiring someone to watch the place for us... the driving back and forth was a bit much. We are still waiting for the word on whether we are allowed to sell wine to restaurants. The LCBO says it's an AGCO licensing issue and the AGCO say it's an LCBO selling issue. Am I alone in thinking we have way too many rules and that sometimes this means we don't get clear guidance on things? On other big news, we will have the honour of receiving a delegation from Finland in September! They approached us earlier this year to ask if they could visit. Looking very much forward to showing them around and talinking about our maple wine. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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Taking the time to play...

As hard as it may be for those who know me to believe, I am actually taking a few days off in August. Not the kind of "off" that includes renovations or blending, but actual down time; 3 FULL DAYS! Be still, it's only a temporary situation. We'll return to our regularly scheduled madness soon enough. The hardest part of running your own business is being able to take a step back and relax. As Claire has pointed out to me on numerous occasions, I really need to slow it down a bit, so I will. I'll still have the winery open on the weekend, albeit closing an hour early on Saturday Aug 4. Maybe next year, I'll be able to hire someone to run it for us while we're away, but I'm getting ahead of myself. ;-) Baby steps... must get past the mentality that we are the ONLY people on the planet who can offer tastings and sell wine at our winery. LOL ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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Like a locomotive...

...things at the winery have really started to pick up. Relentless marketing through online media and print, as well as some TV (Daytime Ottawa) is really beginning to show results. When we started out, we had no money for advertising. OK, we still don't, but the response to the articles and the coverage has been very encouraging. We're scheduled for a couple of events in August, including a visit from the Regional Contact folks, a photo shoot and a trade visit from a group from Finland. We're hoping to squeeze in a wine and cheese night once I finish putting up the drywall in the production area. The thing that truly amazes me is how many people are coming to visit us from Ottawa. It thrills us to no end when someone takes the time to drive the 35 minutes (typically) to come out and visit this area (Oxford Mills & Kemptville). I really shouldn't be amazed because during our 6 years in the Hudson Valley (NY), we did exactly the same thing. In a way, I feel honoured that people include us in their plans when setting out on a day trip. All this to say that we are truly encouraged by the people coming by. Now, if I could only get that driveway smoother... I wonder if I can start an online fundraiser for that? Hmm... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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The benefit of multiple revenue streams

We've reached what I consider a major milestone at Blue Gypsy Wines with the successful (as yet) planting of switchgrass in a previously unused 36 acre section of the property. What is switchgrass you ask? It is actually a grass that is natural to Ontario and can be harvested annually to burn as a biofuel. It can also be used as a plastic additive, horse bedding, etc. What it means to us is an additional revenue stream once it reaches full production in 3 to 5 years. Since it is grass, it is planted once and possibly supplemented over time. This grass grows approximately 8 feet tall and sends roots up to 10 feet down. On land that is typically wet like ours (not wetlands... just wet), this goes a long way to drying up a problem area and possibly reducing the number of mosquitoes. It provides shelter for wild animals and sequesters tons of carbon dioxide. So back to the revenue stream. As a biofuel, a successful crop could pay a good portion of our mortgage. As a carbon sequestering media, it produces carbon credits which may be worth something in the near future. This basically is a lesson in planning for a lousy wine year. If sales should drop in a year, there will be another source of revenue that we can count on to cover the basic operating costs... at least in theory. This does bring to the forefront the importance of spreading risk and making sure that a farm can survive an off-year. Check out our Facebook page (BlueGypsyWines) for pictures over the next few weeks as the plants take root. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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eCommerce... there's always something, isn't there?

We noticed it Friday when a friend tried placing an order through the website. They got all the way through the process only to freeze at the payment step. (Well, the system did, not them...) It seems to have happened again to someone else on Sunday. I'm beginning to wonder if they were trying to order while the site was going through maintenance. I can't be certain, but these little gems are a pain, especially when you are trying to estabish yourself in the market place. I am the tech savvy one, but I admit that some of this stuff is beginning to go over my head. I often think it has to do with the fact that I simply don't have the time to study these issues the way I used to. BUT... then I tried it and it worked fine. However, I was shocked when the shipping calculator informed me that a case of wine would cost $158 to ship 1000 km. Thinking this might be an issue (yes, I am a sharp cookie), I decided to punch in the same info directly into Canada Post's online shipping tool. The result was a more reasonable $25. I think I need to talk to someone about that. Fortunately, I enabled another calculation method that uses the dollar value to calculate shipping and it's actually quite accurate. Plugins, widgets, sliders... Truth is though, the fancier an application gets, the harder they become to fix. The best example can be seen in new cars. I can't even GET to the oil filter on my car... Here is what I want: a simple shopping cart that doesn't annoy clients and simply let's them order and pay. Off to speak with the propeller heads about this... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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Sunday mornings off

It's not about beliefs or such, but breaks are always welcome... at least they are when you initiate them. For us, that would be Sunday morning. Working a full-time job along with the winery can tax the system, so I look forward to those Sunday mornings when my body still feels compelled to wake up at 6 AM, regardless of when I went to bed, to making a nice cup of coffee (complete with Bailey's Irish Creme) and soaking in the hot tub (Conference Room "H"). I love watching the sunrise and listening to the birds. There are no lawn mowers running and just the occasional car. An hour of this and it resets my mind for the coming week. Opening at noon on Sunday was not necessarily the best business decision (I sometimes have people waiting at the gate), but it certainly helps quell the mind and body. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Louis Gaal is the winemaker (and spouse of the ever patient Claire Faguy) at Blue Gypsy Wines in Oxford Mills, Ontario Canada, 45 minutes south of Ottawa. You can find this raving lunatic using the BlueGypsyWines Facebook or Twitter account. Visit them on the web as well at www.BlueGypsyWines.com
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