History: There are always whispers in the craft soda community about how closely related gourmet sodas are to the artisan side of the alcohol industry. Both place an emphasis on quality. Both are held in the highest regard of their respective beverage categories. And both share an audience. The Winemaker’s Shop in Columbus, Ohio recognized this and decided to blur the line for drinkers even more by introducing something enticingly original: wine soda. The Winemaker’s Shop, perhaps unsurprisingly, sells wine and beer kits for home brewers. But here is a surprise: the shop doesn’t sell wine or beer. They can’t. In talking to manager Ivan Francis, we learned an interesting tidbit. The Winemaker’s Shop is located in a “dry zone,” preventing the sale of alcohol. The business was founded in 1974 by Ivan’s father and prolific brewer (seriously, he has a degree in it from the Siebel Institute), Scott Francis. His son notes the entire business has “been very interwoven with the brewing development.” Funny, how a business called “Winemaker’s Shop” started with beer. A lot of great things start with beer, to be fair. So do a lot of bad ones, like my first marriage. But the fact remains that the business can’t sell alcohol. This aided the creation of their soda. But there was one more factor that tipped the scales. According to Francis, every summer there is a farmer’s market that sets up shop right outside the business. He recounts how the market would take away both sales and parking from The Winemaker’s Shop. Scott Francis’s wife and co-owner, Nina Hawranick, thought “On a hot day, what’s better than a nice, cool soda over ice?” So last summer, they started producing their wine-flavored sodas and selling them at that same farmer’s market.
It’s pretty easy once you have it explained to you why the soda tastes like wine… because it almost is. Francis tells us they simply take the fruity summer wine grape juice kits, force carbonate the liquid, and add some sugar. Voila. Wine soda. So they’re literally making the soda from the same elements from which you could make wine. You’d just need to add water and yeast instead. Theoretically, you could buy one of their kits and also make the soda yourself if you got the proportions right and had the tools to carbonate it. “You don’t find wine soda in stores,” says Francis. No you don’t, Ivan. The only wine soda I’ve ever had previously was when I poured Zinfandel in my Sprite. But in fairness to me, I was already pretty drunk. Francis notes they usually have around 12 flavors of wine soda at a given time with Green Apple Riesling and Black Raspberry Merlot being the most popular. We went with the up-and-comer, Raspberry Dragon Fruit Shiraz, mostly because you just don’t find Dragon Fruit in soda. It was designed with the idea of the bitterness in the raspberry interacting with the sweetness of the dragon fruit. Francis drops the best quote of our interview right before we hang up, saying Winemaker’s Shop wine soda “gives people a break from alcohol and allows them to drink early in the morning.” Amen.
Where to get: The Winemaker’s Shop sodas are sold at the company’s store in Columbus, Ohio, as well as several other outlets in the area. Unless you’re close to Columbus, this is one craft soda you’ll have to pick up on a road trip.
Nose: Black raspberry; Berry Juicy Juice. Very fruity, lots of berry scents going on.
Taste: Raspberry; berry wine spritzer. This confuses your taste buds because you expect a raspberry soda flavor, but instead get more of a berry wine spritzer/sweet champagne taste. There’s definitely a fermented alcohol-like flavor to this, akin to wine. The dragon fruit isn’t really apparent in the flavor profile, but then again, dragonf ruit doesn’t have a lot of flavor with which to begin. The raspberry presents itself in more of a generic berry form and has lots of fruity berry notes. Imagine a white wine sangria with blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry flavors; that’s the best description I can give you of this soda’s flavor.
Finish: Fine carbonation with the same berry flavor from the soda’s body that tails off. Not a lot that’s different on the finish.
Rating: This is really impressive and interesting, both in concept and flavor. A wine-flavored soda? Who does that? What really stands out though, is that this actually tastes like a berry-flavored wine. I’m not entirely convinced this doesn’t have alcohol in it. That’s how much like wine it tastes. The berry taste is apparent throughout the beginning, middle, and end of each sip. “Raspberry dragon fruit” is the flavor on the label, but we taste a cornucopia of berries in this. I liken it to a white wine sangria allowed to soak in the flavors from blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. What you’re likely tasting here is the influence that Shiraz wine grape juice has on the raspberry. I mean, I can’t get drunk off this right? This is blowing my mind. What I’d tweak about this soda is the raspberry. I’d like to taste that sweet, fruity raspberry flavor with its mellow acidity as opposed to a generic berry flavor. Upping the raspberries in the recipe probably wouldn’t hurt. The fact that it tastes like wine might also be a turn off to soda drinkers. But if you’re drinking wine soda and you don’t like wine, you were probably held back a grade at some point. The Winemaker’s Shop has created one of the most unique takes on soda being bottled today. It closes the gap between the beer and wine market and the craft soda community for a beverage with mass appeal. It accomplishes what it sets out to do: it tastes like fruity wine. It’s almost uncanny. I don’t grasp the science behind it, but I don’t have to and neither do you. This is one you have to experience to understand.