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Moirae Choquette, an Edmonton-based entrepreneur who created Tomato Wheels, a wine brand seeking to introduce Canadian consumers to the simple pleasure of Lambrusco, the sparkling red wine from Emilia-Romagna.Pixel Pumas Pro/Handout

Have you heard of Lambrusco? The cheerful and fizzy red wine from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is a darling of Canadian sommeliers who love to pair it with pizza, richly sauced pastas or charcuterie boards laden with cured meats and hard cheeses.

Outside of the cloistered wine trade, however, sparkling red wine is a curiosity. Canadian wine lovers of a certain age may have foggy memories of spinning Steve Miller Band records while sipping Riunite or other soda-pop sweet Lambruscos that were popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. The advertising of the day – “Riunite on ice, that’s nice” – would suggest Lambrusco was the Coca-Cola of Italy, best served with ice cubes.

Beyond old stereotypes, most don’t know anything about it, which spelled opportunity for Edmonton-based Indigenous entrepreneur Moirae Choquette.

“It’s a clean slate,” says Choquette, who created Tomato Wheels Lambrusco, a wine brand she developed with the help of Calgary-based sommelier Brad Royale and Alfredo Bertolani, a fourth-generation winery established in Scandiano, Italy, in 1925.

As a tourist, she came to love Lambrusco, the unpretentious sparkling red that is delicious with or without food. As a savvy marketer, she calls it the quintessential Italian wine, and draws parallels of its consumption and awareness to where Prosecco was 10 years ago. (Prosecco sales have boomed to a point where the affordable and appealing bubbly from the Veneto region accounted for one in three bottles of sparkling wine consumed in this country in 2021.)

“There’s a gap in the market,” she explains. “No one was taking ownership of Lambrusco. This was the direction to go in.”

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Moirae Choquette, shows off a bottle of her Tomato Wheels Lambrusco. The clear glass bottle displays the ruby-red colour of the wine, with a label created by Edmonton artist Lee Kreklewetz.Handout

Wine wasn’t always in the cards for Choquette. The original business plan was an Italian spice company, which led her to spend a lot of time in Italy, working to research and develop products, such as prepackaged spice mixtures consumers could rehydrate and serve over pasta. Along the way she won a cooking scholarship through an Airbnb Experience program. Choquette was set to spend a week training alongside chef David Chang at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, in June, 2020, but the pandemic derailed those plans.

The idea to launch a wine company based on Lambrusco came to her in a dream. “I woke up at 3 a.m. and thought: Here’s something from the universe,” she says.

Despite her passion for the product, Choquette wasn’t well versed in the wine world. That’s why she reached out to Royale, who she first heard about while listening to a podcast about wine. She leaned on Royale’s insight and connections to find a suitable supplier. The well-respected sommelier and wine expert has worked in hospitality and wine education for more than two decades. He also produces his own wine label, Kitten Swish, by selecting and importing fine wines from around the world.

“I explained to him how I wanted something very traditional, not sweet, for people trying Lambrusco for the first time,” she says.

The Bertolani family in Italy responded to Choquette’s e-mail and Tomato Wheels came into being over the course of countless Zoom calls, with tastings happening virtually, owing to travel restrictions. After 10 months of back and forth, a special blend of Lambrusco was crafted and bottled for release.

The first bottles of Tomato Wheels were released last October. The initial order of 112 cases sold through in three weeks. She has increased her order to roughly 2,000 cases as distribution expands from Alberta into British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. The startup was supported by Apeetogosan (Métis) Development Inc.

The package was designed to be as approachable as the wine inside the bottle. Tomato Wheels comes in a clear glass bottle that displays the ruby-red colour of the wine, with an eye-catching label created by Edmonton artist Lee Kreklewetz. The front label simply states “Lambrusco.” There’s no regional appellation, classification or jargon to scare consumers away.

It’s a path to market that has proved to be successful for other European brands, notably Dr. L Riesling, one of bestselling riesling exports from Germany. Made by Ernst Loosen, who is widely viewed as one of the Mosel’s finest producers, Dr. L’s label avoids the names of vineyards, regions and ripeness levels that commonly appear on most German labels. Loosen knows that collectors and connoisseurs know how to decode the meaning behind it, but those exacting details can intimidate others who are just looking to buy wine to enjoy.

The blend created for Tomato Wheels features the traditional Lambrusco salamino grape with 14 per cent of malbo gentile, a local grape that contributes colour and tannin to the finished wine. The grapes came from the Bertolani family’s hillside vineyards, which are favoured for producing Lambrusco’s with more body and structure than the lighter-style wines made with grapes in vineyards located in the region’s plains.

This Lambrusco got its bubbles from undergoing a fermentation in a pressurized tank that captures the carbon dioxide created during fermentation and was bottled quickly to preserve the fresh, lively fragrance and gentle bubbles.

It’s classified as frizzante, meaning it’s semi-sparkling in the range of sparkling wine. Fizzy, not fully sparkling like Champagne, which is determined by the amount of pressure inside the bottle. The higher the pressure, the smaller and finer the bubbles in your glass.

Less than a year into championing the simple pleasures of Lambrusco, Choquette says she’s still finding out who her customer is. “Most people are leery of a sparkling red wine,” she says, of the initial response from customers at store tastings or trade shows. “But then, after tasting, 99 per cent of them are surprised and delighted.”

Tomato Wheels is currently available in independent liquor stores in British Columbia and Alberta and Sobey’s locations in Saskatchewan. Ontario and Quebec residents can order online through Crushable Wine Club. Visit for a list of stores and restaurants.

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