On a trip from the south one day, I passed through Canelles in Micoud. I passed the concrete wall with the sign ‘LOCAL WINE SOLD HERE.’ For years I have traveled along the Vieux Fort/Castries road and I always wondered what the story was with this wine enterprise. I decided it was about time I found out. Making a U-turn, I was off in search of wine.
The place looked deserted. There were contraptions at the entrance, welcoming visitors. After calling out an elderly man popped his head out. It was Charles Louis, the brains behind the enterprise. He was very accommodating to his unannounced guest and readily poured out his story.
Louis grew up in Canelles where he still resides today. The 73-year-old flashed a smile as he spoke to someone easily two generations his junior, telling tales of every government St Lucia has ever had.
Louis has had his wine distillery for more than 31 years, since 1970. He told the STAR how it all began.
“The reason I started doing wine is because I love wine. Especially in my days, my family, we were poor people and we could not afford to buy wine. At that time, this same party, UWP, was asking people to go to Union station to learn to make juice. I went there. The same day I arrived, it was the same day the juice place was closing down. They said they can’t teach me to make juice because they are closing down. I asked for a reason for the closure. They say they were not successful in what they were doing. I was really disappointed. I saw some fruits outside the station in a big pot. I asked them what they were doing with it. Then they said to me they were learning to make wine. I said, ‘well, teach me how to make wine too.’ They said they cannot teach me because they were not successful at it. They advised me if I wanted to learn something so badly from them and I want to make wine, go to Johnson’s and buy a wine book and try to make wine myself. I think it paid off.”
Louis bought his wine book and tried to make wine from the recipes. After trying without success for almost three years, Louis decided it was time to mix things up a bit. “I made wine but it wasn’t good wine. So I decided to try my own style. Instead of pouring hot water on the fruits, I brewed them, boiled it down. The very same day I did that, I was successful. I produced proper wine. I didn’t celebrate as yet.”
Louis knew he had to get others to sample his wine before he declared it was good. He got many different reviews and moved forward from there. He laughed, “I definitely knew to myself that this was good wine because I had been producing bad wine for so long! I continued refining my process.”
During that time, Louis lived at Ravine Poisson and worked on a banana plantation. He described it as laborious and unyielding. “You would work all day and get two little bunches of banana, half of them not good. If you get a $100 a month you get a lot. But for me, I had children to send to school and a wife to take care of. When I continued to make better wine, I decided to move back to Canelles. The other reason I left Ravine Poisson is because, in my time, there were a lot of Seventh Day Adventists living there who didn’t drink wine and they kept giving me a hard time for producing it.”
After relocating to Canelles, Louis said it was a trying time. Even now it still is because he is prohibited from mass producing wine by law. He still cannot understand why that law is not reviewed because as far as he knows, that law was to prevent slaves from producing alcohol. Since the days of slavery are done, Louis believes he and other St Lucians should be given a chance to earn a decent living.
Speaking earnestly, Louis said, “This wine making business can employ so many people. If I have to make 1000 gallons of wine, I need 3000 pounds of that fruit. The farmers will have a market to sell their fruit. I have put every fruit on this island to ferment. I have made wine out of honey! The only thing I have not tried is ginger.”
Authorities have closely monitored Louis and his wine sales. He is not allowed to sell to wholesale to businesses nor is he allowed to have an establishment to sell it retail. Frustrated by the constraints, Louis decided to branch out to other things.
Animatedly Louis said, “I don’t only produce wine. These machines are my machines! I created them. I came up with the ideas and I got engineers to build it for me.”
One machine is a sugarcane crusher to extract the juice from the cane. The other is a farine maker.
If you’re ever on the east coast road, don’t miss the opportunity to stop and have a chat with Mr Charles Louis, one of the most interesting people you may ever meet. Have a sample of his exquisite St Lucian wine. His oldest barrel of wine dates back to 1985. The brews are smooth on the palate and definitely, two glasses are sure gonna have you smiling from ear to ear!