Foreword from MMM: Mr. Toque is back with more advanced Mustachi0-Canadian techniques! While the methods described within definitely work in Ontario, if you have similar tricks for your own area, please share them in the comments. In the mean time, at least I have my Bota Boxes..
If you grew up like me, which isn’t terribly likely, then the moderate consumption of alcohol has been a part of social gatherings your entire life. Sometime around the age of eight or ten, your parents might have started offering you sips of their drinks. By the age of twelve, when the shot glasses were passed around at Easter or Christmas, you would get a trace of whatever was being drunk at the bottom of your very own tiny glass.
When you left home, you might have carefully added the beverage of your choice to enhance your enjoyment of a quiet evening of fellowship or a raucous night of step dancing to the latest Maritime fiddle tunes. (Again, your experience may vary.)
As discussed ages ago, a proper Mustachian is a person capable of enjoying his life without breaking his bank. Instead of going to a bar and buying round after round of expensive drinks, we clever lot gather in houses and back patios, ever respecting our neighbours’ right to peace and quiet, and enjoy our lower cost beverages and the camaraderie that comes from being able to control the musical volume and thus carry on conversations. If we do go to out dancing establishments, we have a few drinks beforehand and limit our further consumption of alcohol to that required to maintain our respective buzzes throughout the evening.
All that said, the point is thus: moderate alcohol consumption has been a part of our lives for some time and will continue to be with us for years to come. So let us see what we can do to optimize the cost of it.
A Little Bit About Sin Taxes
A short aside for those living outside of Canada. Around these parts, we went through a period of alcohol prohibition because of a thing called the “Temperance Movement”. Now before you curse it out, Prohibition wasn’t all bad. It allowed criminal organizations to grow like wildfire, giving us the Godfather and the Sopranos. As well, my grandfather ran rum into the United States during their Prohibition period, which is almost as good as having a pirate in your family.
When the Temperance Movement gave up, its laws were replaced with “Blue laws”, making it very annoying to get alcohol. You had to have a permit which got filled in every time you bought any booze. The liquor stores were to keep track of you and make sure not to sell you too much. Taxes were levied to keep people from turning to evil.
Even today, every province has its own strange rules. In Quebec, you can buy beer at a corner store. In Ontario, you can only buy liquors and wines at licensed “Liquor Control Board of Ontario” outlets and beer from either a “Beer Store” or from the LCBO.
As well, such things are heavily taxed in many jurisdictions.
What If You Make Your Own Wine?
There’s a trick that was discovered a long time ago and it works in many provinces in Canada and, I’m told, many states down south. People who make their own wine don’t have to pay sin taxes. How could they? All they’re doing is buying grapes from somewhere – that’s totally not alcoholic in any way, is it? Then they ferment those grapes in their basements, bottle it and drink it. Where can the Puritan/Tax Man nab you? Nowhere.
Now you’re probably saying, as a Mustachian, “Whoa, there, Mr. Toque. That sounds like a lot of work and a lot of start up cost. There must be barrels and bottles and … um … fermenting stuff. Maybe, like, sulfites? Or something?”
You’re absolutely right. Who has the space for all of these barrels? Who has the corking devices? The know how?
Sounds tricky, and I’m a guy with a rumrunner on one side of his family and a whole host of wine farmers three generations back on the other side. More on this “trickiness” later.
Why not beer? Why not make your own whiskey?
Those are equally valid things to make, as you suit your own tastes. One man’s finest Scotch Whiskey is paint thinner to his wife. One woman’s fruited wine is sugar candy to someone else.
For me, wine has always been the classy way to go. Just the scent of a nice, dark red is capable of putting me in a calm, serene frame of mind; that of a man prepared to let the world be as it is while it gently floats by his window.
But do I need to pay $100 a bottle. Hell, no. How about $20? That’s better, although I prefer, if I have to, to pick up a $10 or $12 bottle.
But Mr. Toque, what about tannins, and body, and bouquet! Don’t you care about those things?
Uh, no. I care about how good it tastes to me. I also resist, as is the nature of the ancient Stoics, becoming a connoisseur of material goods. Becoming the kind of person who can only enjoy the very finest and most expensive of anything, be it wine, automobile or speaker cable, is doubly wasteful.
First, you are foolishly using your educational time while you become an expert and second, you’ll have to spend the rest of your life incurring expenses as the price of having achieved such expertise.
Besides which, it’s been proven repeatedly – at least to my satisfaction – that most wine experts are just as susceptible to pretty bottles and wine glasses as the rest of us. But, hey, if you want to go on paying $200 per bottle of wine, you can skip this blog post and drive your SUV across town to that really good wine store. You should know, however, that every time you say, “I can’t imagine drinking anything that doesn’t come from the Loire”, the babel fish I stuck in my ear the last time I passed through the Betelgeuse system will always render this statement as, “I can’t imagine not drilling a hole in my head and pouring in battery acid every night.”
Back on topic, now, let’s see if we can’t get that $10 just a wee bit lower by eliminating the 19% to 29% taxes and a good deal of the marketing cost that goes into it.
How Do I Make My Own Wine?
The answer is that you do the wine making on some other person’s property with that other person’s barrels. The laws for making your own wine, in the province of Ontario and many other places across Canada, require you only to take part in the bottling process. This has led to a large number of small businesses popping up all over the province where you can “make your own wine.”
So, on behalf of my northern friends and blog readers, I undertook to determine exactly what was involved in this process of “wine making.” Sure the wine comes out cheaper, but what about our time? Let’s find out exactly how much this process costs and how much effort it requires from the “winemaker.”
Step 1 – Order Your Wine
Go to a wine making place nearby. I’ve never yet heard anyone warn me away from a winery, so I just grabbed the one closest to the dojo where the Toque family does their karate lessons – this particular one was called The Wine Garden, but there are many similar facilities around town. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the place was exactly what I expected: just as friendly and relaxed as you could expect a place run by a married couple who spend all day around vat after vat of every kind of wine you could imagine.
You know when you walk in to the lumber yard, take a whiff of the sawdust and think, “Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
It’s like that, but with wine.
So you’ll meet the friendly staff and, given how casual things are, they’ll probably give you a tour of their facility and answer any questions you have. For us, this was half an hour or so, since I was collecting information for all of you. In theory, you could do Step 1 in about five minutes, but just try not to hang around for a bit whilst soaking in the atmosphere
Once you’re satisfied that the facility checks out, you decide what wines you want and in what batch sizes. You can choose from a wide variety of grapes or juices from which to make the wine. Organic is one of the options and they’ll have occasional specials, not so much by price, but by what sorts of grapes from what exotic regions.
Prices ranged from $4.25 a bottle to somewhere around $7 or $8 a bottle.
Mrs. Toque and I, being the frugal sorts we are, chose to make two of the lower cost 24-bottle batches, one of Merlot and one of Pinot Grigio, so we’d have a red and a white to test.
The first step was completed when we paid the 50% deposit of $102. I also scheduled an appointment, two months hence, at which time I would come back to bottle the wine.
Step 2 – Bottle Your Wine
Two months later, I came back for the bottling. I arrived during my lunch hour, noting the time to be 12:07pm.
Without any rushing at all, because you just can’t be in a hurry when your nose is full of the soothing smells of so many wines mixed together, two wine barrels were tapped to fill a pair of containers capable of holding 24 bottles’ worth of wine each.
Each in turn is attached to a machine which pumps the wine simultaneously into four wine bottles. My job in all of this is to detach the wine bottles as they fill up (the machine will not allow overflows) and move them over to the corking device. I insert a cork, close the door, listening for a satisfying “fsh” sound and then remove the bottle.
The winery offers a device for heat-shrinking caps onto the top of the wine bottle and fancy decorative label stickers for you to attach. If you’re planning on taking this wine to a Fancy Gathering, you might do this to some of the bottles for show. You should note, however, that you do have pay $0.75 for each bottle and you have to clean the stickers off when you bring them back for reuse. So consider how many annoying heat-shrunk caps you want to scratch off and how many labels you want to remove.
The bottles are placed in cardboard boxes, one dozen per box. The boxes are closed and loaded in your car.
The last invoice is $102 for the second half of the wine payment and $36 for the bottles.
The time when I sat back down in my car seat: 12:37 pm.
That means it’s $5 per bottle, including the reusable bottle, and less than a minute of my time per bottle.
Even if you went to the liquor store, which is what you’d have to do in Ontario, you’d still spend more than a minute per bottle, so I’d have to argue that we can ignore the time part of this equation altogether and just say that I’m getting wine at $5 per bottle and leave it at that.
Step 3 – The Taste!
Wine has two general uses in the Toque household: drinking and cooking. First, we cooked up a beef stew (plenty of vegetables and barley), adding a cup or so of wine. This came out delicious, modified as it was by all the pleasant flavours and aromas of the finest Merlot ever created.
Dinner, naturally, was complemented by the very same same wine. It tasted as excellent and luxurious as any red wine I’ve ever tasted at any convention I’ve ever visited. The aroma brought back memories of many similar evenings and the senior members of the household received the pleasant alcohol-induced relaxation they always do. If there is some subtle difference between this and the much more expensive varieties available from professional wineries, we found ourselves unable to detect it.
What else is there to say?
The effort to produce your own wine is minimal; the cost savings is at least 50% and the taste is indistinguishable from the finest. The only question is: why isn’t everyone else doing this?
 – Also, please don’t go on about the value of “anti-oxidants” in red wine. The virtues of anti-oxidants, though much touted by marketers of anti-oxidizing products, have never been scientifically demonstrated. It may be that red wine is less bad for you than beer or whiskey, but let’s not pretend we know that for sure.
And don’t get me started on that resveratrol stuff, either. The science on that is equally ‘meh’, unless you’re getting 60 litres of wine’s worth of the chemical – every day.
Great post. I’ve never heard of bottling at a winery or brewery in order to get the deflated cost/tax. Perhaps it’s just a Canadian thing? I’ve personally forayed into brewing my own beer to cut down on high costs of alcohol. Though the initial start up costs are moderate ($100-$200), the per beer cost comes down to about $.80 (US) once you’ve incurred the initial overhead.
I prefer this greatly than spending $4-8 per beer when enjoying libations with friends. My friends enjoy it too, when I’m willing to share.
Nice, practical post!