The sandwich board that sits outside Toronto’s Vintage One Wines reads: “Love wine? Come in and talk about it over an espresso.” And owner and founder Alejandra de Miguel isn’t kidding. “You don’t have to be a rich, powerful man to be a part of the world of wine,” she says, gesturing with her silver- adorned hands.
Alejandra’s own wine education began with her parents, Alejandro and Mabel de Miguel, who met studying oenology and viticulture in Mendoza, Argentina’s famed wine-growing area. (Mabel was one of the first women in Argentina to graduate from the program.) “My mother has always been a huge inspiration to me – especially since the field is still dominated by men,” Alejandra says.
Her parents moved to Canada in 1990 to avoid Argentina’s economic uncertainty. They established themselves quickly as respected winemakers here. But Alejandra wasn’t always keen to follow in their footsteps. Instead she pursued political science at McGill University in Montreal. It wasn’t until she worked on the harvest with her father one year that she fell in love with wine production. And she’s glad she discovered this passion on her own. “I didn’t want to get into wine just because of my dad,” she says.
But Alejandra really cut her teeth in urban winemaking when she and her then-boyfriend (and current business partner) Julian Pinder bought a restaurant and installed a microwinery. In fact, that experience prompted her to start Vintage One. “I was shocked by how well our homemade wines competed with the store-bought ones we stocked. That’s when I realized there was a market there.”
So Alejandra opened Toronto’s first bespoke winery — their cellar is your cellar. And it happens to have beautiful charcoal walls and crystal chandeliers and is filled with classical music and the smell of wine. Gone are the days of dodgy home brewing. This skillful vintner sells you her experience, her space and her grapes (all from $4 a bottle).
Customers can choose from a menu of 20 varietals — ranging from Californian sangiovese to Ontario-grown chardonnay and sparkling Argentine malbec — hand-picked for quality and price. The catch? You have to plan ahead. It takes a minimum of four to six weeks to make a white, and six to eight to make a red.
But patience is a virtue, and in this instance one that yields 12 cases (144 bottles) of custom wine that you’ve had a hand in making. In fact, you can even design your own labels, a personal and creative flourish that’s perfect for more than just wedding tables.
Alejandra’s passion for wine is now extending beyond the bottle. Starting this month, she will be hosting a web-TV show online at alejandralivingwine.com. She looks so natural when swirling a rich, juicy malbec, we’re sure just watching her will be enough to make you reach for the corkscrew.
Alejandra’s telling details:
I love my job because . . . I’m at the mercy of nature. It’s very humbling.
My ideal day is . . . lounging on a virgin beach under the sun with good company.
I wish I was better at . . . time management, and not trying to do too much.
My favorite moment of the day is . . . sunset, because it’s perfect lighting and the beginning of the night.
The biggest mistake I ever made was . . . not spending more time with Tata, my grandmother, before she passed away.
The glass is . . . half-full (of wine).
Alejandra’s favorite things:
Tango, my dog: “He’s a wonderful companion. He’s always there for me, he’s a great listener and he never talks back.”
Drinking Mate: “It is an Argentine ritual that brings people together: You share tea from a gourd with a silver straw and pass it around the circle.”
Extra-virgin olive oil: “I love the way the oil coats your mouth when you eat it. And I put it on almost everything, including my skin and hair!”
Flamenco dancing: “I’m holding a dance for the school I go to, the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, at the winery on May 7.”