"Wet dog? Wet dog! Wet dog, right?!"
This from the front row at a wine club, where a woman excitedly wanted to share her nosing notes with 30-odd twenty and thirtysomethings, the majority of them women.
She looked back to see if others picked up on the damp-mutt aroma. They did. And the room, once again, was filled with laughter and happy chatter about the funky Louis-Antoine Luyt Pipeno, a wine made from indigenous pais grapes grown in Chile.
Not exactly the usual scene at a wine tasting. But Grape Witches, a bicoastal, monthly wine happening isn't your average wine club, either. For one thing, the educational tasting precedes a party that the organizers prefer to call a "wine seance/rave." At the Toronto event held on May 1, also an important pagan holiday, there was even a wiccan maypole ritual, through which the energy of the earth was summoned from all four corners.
And then the drinking and dancing got started.
Pairing wine and witchcraft came naturally to high priestesses of Grape Witches, Krysta Oben and Nicole Campbell. The two have been gently teased about their witchy ways for years, on account of their esoteric tastes and preference for natural wines.
"There's an element of magic in a lot of wines, especially field blend and biodynamic ones," says Campbell, a Vancouver wine agent who works for Lifford Wines and Spirits, a company her father founded. "All of the most exciting wines have an element of chance, since, with the most extraordinary wines, you can't control everything."
Which are exactly the wines the witches are pouring at their events, which have been in high demand since the group's January debut. The duo had to hire a bouncer for their packed house in Vancouver, plus add an extra class every month in Toronto.
In May, Toronto attendees tasted seven wines, including a bright verdejo that was described as the "older sister of a sauvignon blanc" and a dangerously drinkable cab franc.
Most life-altering was a naturally sparkling red "pét-nat" from Austria, Meinklang Graupert Red Foam, which put a spell over the room, with many attendees wondering aloud if they could afford to spring for a whole case, as is law in Ontario when buying wine from an agent.
The witches say their events have a built-in solution for that problem.
"Think of this as wine Tinder, where you talk amongst your new friends about which wines you love and find some friends to split cases with," said Lauren Wilton, Superpoint's general manager and herself a member of the coven. "And wine Tinder is generally way more fulfilling than real Tinder."
As smart as this feature is, it was not the main reason that Oben and Campbell (who doesn't even feature many of her own wines, preferring to share the spotlight with other agencies) started the club.
The impetus came from their desire to show off less-commercial wines, so that members (largely women, although not exclusively) could feel more confident about taking a risk on an adventurous wine and having it pay off.
"We just wanted to do it because we loved the wines we were showing so much," Campbell says. "I see so many people who are really engaged in food and community and they're buying really conscientiously in all these other areas in their life and then they're posting photos of this really bad wine. You can make better choices with your money and also have really cool wine."
And not just at the store, either. One of the best features of the Grape Witch events is Oben's sly little tips regarding how to read a wine list and communicate to your server that you want to get out of the pinot grigio/big bold red ghetto and into the delicious wines section.
"Tell your sommelier that you want a vin de soif, and she'll love you," Oben says. "It means a wine that's meant to quench your thirst and, at the same time, be a real pleasure and a delight. They're meant to be drunk while you're dancing or sitting in the park with your friends."
The idea of wine made for drinking in the park struck another nerve with the nearly-raucous clan of chatty wine lovers, who seem to finally have a space to experience different wine a little more casually – with less spitting, a few more swears and a lot more magical drinking.
The next Grape Witches event will take place in Toronto on August 7 at Midfield Wine Bar & Tavern.