Growing up in the fishing village of La Fillette on Trinidad's north coast, Lyndi Jordan remembers standing in the kitchen, looking on as her mother Cheryl Jordan set fruits to ferment to make wine.
The recipe for the wines that filled Jordan’s memories was passed on from generation to generation, until she was able to learn the family secret to making great-tasting local wine.
Now that Jordan learned the secret, she has taken four generations of local wine making and turned it into a business which delivers a product that is not only reminiscent of the delicious home-made wines that are a part of several Christmas traditions, but is also of international quality.
Four generations of wine makers
Aquarian Legacy Winery was registered as a business in October 2020, but its story spans four generations, according to Jordan.
The tradition started with her great grandmother, Mary Octavia Kernahan, a farmer and midwife. It was then passed down to her grandmother Hilda Brown, also a farmer and midwife, then to her mother and finally to her. She said the recipe is traditionally passed down to the women in her family.
She said wine making has been at the centre of many of her family traditions.
“I enjoyed being part of making the wines with my mom,” she said.
“I would be there helping out, tasting and so on. Sometimes I would even sneak into her cupboard and steal a little wine from her stash. Years later, I learned that she did the same with her mom’s stash. So I guess I carried on that tradition as well.”
Jordan knows a thing or two about how bacteria works – she is a marine biologist with a background in microbiology. But even with the scientific know-how and the recipe, she still depends on that generational knowledge to produce the wines she puts on the market.
“People assume I drink wine all the time because I make it, but I normally drink when I am taste-testing. My sister Lynissa, my mom and I would take out a batch and some shot glasses and we would run through a few flavours. She would say ‘this one is too sweet’ or ‘this one has a little too much vinegar in it’ or ‘this one is perfect.’
"It’s a lot of fun and we get a little tipsy from doing it, but it is important to the process because it is a tradition in our family.”
Jordan said her mother has the entire recipe in her head, from the best way to set the fruits, to straining the wine, to the length of time it should ferment. She simply pulls out the method and standardises the procedure.
But wines are not Jordan's only business. She also established Aurora Bitayson Ltd, which produces coconut oil, wines, syrups and jellies from an estate which was started by her father’s grandparents in the 1950s. This year, she also established Mommel's concentrate juices.
"We made the formula for Mommel's concentrates out of a recipe for pancake syrups that we made from fruits. I used the recipe and tweaked it to make the concentrate."
Jordan returned to Trinidad and Tobago from Tampa, Florida in 2015 after eight years studying marine biology. She said coming from Tampa, where businesses and businesspeople were nurtured from a young age, it was a culture shock to see how closed some of the associations dealing with businesses in TT operate.
“In the business chambers in Tampa you don’t have to be in a business to be a member. There is a training programme where you train as a youth to be a member of the chamber. Through that you can get to speak on regional boards in Tampa Bay Area and you can get to go to several meetings, whether it is on transport or school districts and have your voice heard.”
“Coming back and seeing how closed off everything was in business was annoying,” she said.
Jordan registered the estate in 2015 upon her return to TT after which she took part in a business development programme funded by Shell, which culminated in a pitch competition. Although she didn’t win, she gained a wealth of experience and education.
“What they did differently was they had different coaches that focused on building you instead of just building the business,” she said.
With the help of Brittany Parker, a schoolmate who does art, she developed the label and with the confidence gained from the programme she registered the wine making business. Jordan said she combined her love for the ocean and her family’s history of wine making to develop her brand.
Aquarian Legacy Winery’s first flavour, Amphitrite, named after the Greek goddess of the ocean was launched in December 2020. Later on she developed other wines including ginger, orange and sorrel. The wine can be found on shelves in the Shops of Normandie and in East Gourmet, on Prince Street, Arima. You can also order through via Facebook and Instagram.
Not just another 21-day wine
Jordan told Business Day one of the biggest challenges in her wine-making business is breaking the stigma attached to local wine.
“When people think about local wines they think that it is of poor quality, it’s cheap and its homemade.”
She said she took on the uphill battle of changing that perception while operating the Aurora Bitayson estate.
“We had to educate people and tell them that it was not just another 21-day wine. As a matter of fact after the 21 days that is when we do our first strain out.”
“Our wines ferment for at least eight to nine months,” she said. “We even have a private stock that is about 15 years old.”
Jordan said similar to international wines, the flavour and palate of Aquarian Legacy Winery’s local wines are greatly affected by several factors, including the soil in which the fruits are planted, the season, and even what kind of water is used in the fermentation process.
“If you use rain water as opposed to tap water, that changes the palate. The type of soil that you are dealing with – if you use fruits planted in Sangre Grande versus central Trinidad, it changes the palate. If you use fruits such as pineapple that are picked during the rainy season there is more water in it than flavour. If it is picked in the dry season it has more flavour. That also changes the palate.”
She said she uses food grade barrels for ageing and fermentation. The wine is aged anywhere from eight months to two years, depending on the quantity of flavour.
"This allows all the flavours to develop and for particles in the suspension to separate out and sink to the bottom," she said.
Jordan said she plans her production of the wine about a year in advance. She sets the wine in January so it would be ready for December. Before that she has to reach out to local farmers, ensure that their fruits are of good quality, double and triple check formulas and work out budgets and logistics before she ferments a single fruit.
For the fruit concentrates, the fruits go through a pasteurising process that allows for them to stay for up to a year if stored properly.
“We wanted something that people could just add water and use. We know the issues involved with the rise in prices in sugar and other raw materials. So our fruit concentrates could last up to a year in the freezer.”
Fermenting a business in covid19
Jordan said building a business during a time when most businesses were facing unprecedented challenges was an uphill climb in itself. The challenges which came with educating people about wine was managed through the help of open markets where they would offer tastes of each flavour of wine. She said the majority of her customer base for the wines were made that way.
But when covid19 came along and restrictions on gathering and interacting with people were enforced, Namdevco markets where she would have usually sold her wines stopped allowing taste testing at the market.
She had to pivot to online sales.
“It has been challenging. With the first business, the estate, you had a lot of markets. So you got the feel and the flow of the markets. It was easy to find your target customer base. The estate already hit five years so it would have an established clientèle.”
She added that online clientèle don’t interact as much as face to face clients.
“It is not like you can easily say I know this client’s family and so on. It is a l harder to make those connections.”
The rise in prices for raw materials such as packaging and containers, which were seriously affected by freight and access, also affected her business.
“Something as simple as glass bottles, manufactures have not been making the amount that they should. They have discontinued certain lines that the micro enterprises were using.”
She said it put her business and other micro businesses in a bad position. She said it affected logistics for labelling and, although she had not begun exporting yet, the change in bottles would affect her ability as a micro-business to export products.
“If you had registered with the FDA, you can’t just change you bottle. You would have to start the process all over again to get the approvals. That has impacted time and people’s livelihoods. If the bottle supply is iffy and they are only making bottles once a year, as a young start-up you would not have the resources to buy an entire pallet of products. That is a few thousand that you could be using for other things.”
Closures of the restaurant industry also affected her business plans where Mommels was concerned. She told Business Day the Mommel’s brand was developed particularly to serve restaurants with an easy to use and delicious concentrate that would make fruit juices and cocktails easier to make.
But when restaurants closed down in May, she feared her product would now have to find a new home.
“Restaurants closed a week after I made my first restaurant delivery. On the day it closed I got an order for a restaurant that had multiple locations. But buy the time it was announced that restaurants were closed they called and said they couldn’t take the order again.”
“I was devastated. I started wondering what we were going to do, how we were going to survive. We managed to make some deliveries in between to a bakery that usually took orders, so we got some income, but Mommel’s did not kick off until July and August.”
As she pivoted to more accessible bottles she was able to maintain the quality of her products as well as reach customer bases that she did not expect to have through her online presence.
“My customer base for Mommels is now mostly homes and families. Some of my customers were impressed with the taste, the fact that there were no chemicals and at the original price, $50 for a 2 litre bottle, it competed with the brand name juices in the grocery.”
She said that because of the rise in prices for raw materials she had to raise the price of the juice to $70 but still had a large customer base.
“Some people buy the guava concentrate alone. We can’t sell them anything else. I tell them when guava goes out of season we would have to inform them in advance,” she said.
Jordan said in the coming year Aquarian Legacy Winery will be experimenting with new flavours such as white sorrel. She added that as she plans to get married within the next year she will also make a wine which blends two flavours and could age along with the marriage.
“We can do custom blends for wines. It is something that I have been playing with for a while. My mother was the one who started blending flavours with the wines when she did it and we would always be impressed. So I thought why not find a way to marry what two people like to show the union of the two people. For my wedding I plan to have a batch put aside so that every year we can open one, and the wine will age with our marriage.”