A home for house wine Daughter and father team up to produce attractive, cosy abodes for utilitarian bag-in-a-box vino
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/02/2022 (467 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One of the more interesting developments in the last two years has been the rise in popularity of boxed wine, oft-disparaged as cardboardeaux or caber-nyet by oenophiles from Nice to Napa Valley.
On the one hand, the majority of consumers knew boxed wine, some call it bag-in-box wine, offers more bang for their buck, stays fresh longer after being opened and is more environmentally friendly than its glass-bottled counterpart. Still, many couldn’t get past the stigma that it’s third-rate plonk, despite multiple reviews to the contrary in such respected publications as Wine Enthusiast (“Still think you can’t have quality wine without the bottle? Think again.”) and Food and Wine (“Don’t fear boxed wine.”)
“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, enabling boxed wine to step into the spotlight as an affordable and convenient way to sip wine at home that required fewer trips to the store,” read a recent article in Wine Business Monthly. The report detailed how sales of certain brands increased a whopping 74 per cent at the height of the pandemic, and show no signs of slowing down now that more people have accepted the fact boxed wine also measures up favourably when it comes to taste.
That brings us to Carmen Konzelman, founder of Uncorked Designs, a Narol-based venture that has been thinking inside the box since the spring of 2020.
Three Christmases ago, Konzelman, 28, was trying to decide what to get for her Aunt Candy, whom she laughingly describes as the proverbial person who has everything. She knew her aunt loved to entertain, and that when she did, she would invariably put out a three-litre box of wine, equivalent to four bottles, for the sake of convenience. She also knew if there is one negative associated with boxed wine, it’s that the packaging isn’t overly attractive.
She did a bit of digging, and became excited when she learned of a company in California that markets eye-catching wooden cabinets expressly made for boxed wine. Simply remove the vacuum-sealed, plastic pouch from the box, the instructions read, place it inside the unit and… presto change-o, you’re left with something far more visually appealing than a cardboard container parked on a kitchen counter.
Perfect, she thought; who wouldn’t want to put that out for guests? Problem was, the so-called wine nooks were expensive, as much as US$595 each. Also, shipping north of the border wasn’t an option. Undeterred, she showed a picture to her father Gord, an experienced carpenter who built their family home from the ground up.
His response: why not make one themselves?
The first thing they did was head to the LC to pick up a few boxes of wine, which come in a variety of sizes. Once Gord settled on dimensions that would comfortably accommodate either a three- or four-litre bag, it only took him a matter of hours to craft a model both felt was superior to what they’d seen online, one that included a slide-out front panel, with a hole for an existing spigot to fit through, to make it easy to set a full bag inside and take an empty one out.
“The toughest part was figuring out how high the bag had to sit so that the wine would pour out freely,” Konzelman says, agreeing with our assertion that the trial-and-error period, which involved dispensing glass after glass of vino until they got things right, definitely falls under the category, “It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it.”
Not only did her aunt adore the finished product, which they stained to match her living room décor, so did everybody else who spotted it. That gave Konzelman, who at the time was enrolled in the final year of a master of physician assistants program at the University of Manitoba, an idea: given her dad was retired and forever on the look-out for projects to keep him occupied, why not start a small, hobby business, and see if there was any outside interest in what they’d come up with?
Konzelman launched Uncorked Designs on Instagram just ahead of Mother’s Day, 2020. In addition to stained cabinets similar to what they’d made for her aunt, they also unveiled a “summer collection” painted bright shades of pink, yellow or lavender that came with stenciled labels marked, for example, Pinot Noir or Sauv Blanc, priced at around $75 each.
“We weren’t too sure what the demand would be like, so my dad only made 30 or so initially. After they were all gone within a matter of days we were, like, ‘Hmm, we might be onto something here,’” she says, adding even those who aren’t sure what they are staring at — passersby at farmer’s markets she’s attended have openly wondered if they are glorified birdhouses or oversized jewelry boxes – comment, “Perfect! Why didn’t I think of that?” when she lets them in on the true purpose.
Free Press drinks writer Ben Sigurdson wasn’t previously familiar with Uncorked Designs, or anything similar in nature, but after learning of the father-and-daughter team’s endeavor, he, too, was all for the idea.
“Boxed wine certainly ain’t pretty, but it is handy. The box-for-your-boxed-wine is a new one to me, but it’s definitely clever (and) makes sense, particularly if you want to keep it on your kitchen (or) dining room counter and can get a colour to match paint, walls or what have you,” he says.
Sigurdson would be interested to know if owning one of the Konzelmans’ smart-looking repositories might be just the excuse a person needed to purchase boxed wine, if they’d previously been on the fence concerning the product.
“I think that’d be an interesting story; I honestly am not sure,” he says, jokingly adding another advantage he sees is that one would be able to serve “really bad boxed wine” with guests being none the wiser.
Going forward, Konzelman, who also sells wine charms, crewneck sweaters reading “You had me at Merlot” and reusable bladders for those who would prefer to serve homemade mocktails or batches of sangria, looks forward to establishing a retail presence at some point, through a platform such as Good Local or at a bricks-and-mortar, made-in-Manitoba type shop. Except because she currently works full-time in an emergency ward in Selkirk, it will undoubtedly be “baby steps” for the foreseeable future, she says.
In the meantime, she and her dad continue to come up with new designs — they recently enlisted Cloverdale Forge, an old-world blacksmith shop in the Interlake, to fashion metal legs for their rustic series of cabinets — while also accepting custom orders from parties that inquire about a specific colour or type of wood. There’s also the option to personalize a piece, she points out, by having them stamp a name or names onto the wooden panels.
“I never saw myself as an entrepreneur before all this started, but it’s definitely been a blast working so closely with my dad these last two years,” Konzelman says, mentioning she has already placed a personal order with him for a half-dozen new boxes that she’ll be putting to good use, in a little over six months time.
“My fiancée and I are getting married in September and — 100 per cent — we’ll have a few boxes each of red and white at the bar.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.