Nick Pappas is behind Collab Wine & Beverage, our first producer partner. Trained as a winemaker through Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture programme, he’s found a way to employ his expertise outside the cellar. We were drawn to Collab, and Nick, as his aims mirror our own. Rather than launching a drinks label, Collab is a supportive ecosystem for so-called ‘virtual’ brands who don’t have their own physical space. Collab’s role is to nurture multiple brands across the spectrum of local drinks, providing the business, marketing, and licensing expertise to wine- and cidermakers, who are then free to focus on their craft.

So far, Collab’s portfolio features four exciting maker-led brands. Fogolar, from winemaker Marc Pistor, is about classic Riesling and Cabernet Franc made in small batches, often from distinguished single vineyards in Niagara. Maenad Wine Co is a new label from experienced winemaker Yvonne Irvine. She focuses on irreverent and textural natural wines. The Old Tun is the home of all things bubbly. Ramsey Khairallah makes fascinating sparkling wine and cider infused with a love of experimentation. And Ev’s Eclectics is the brainchild of Mitchell Everett McCurdy. He makes delightful perry (pear cider) with interesting twists like botanical infusion or barrel aging.

We’re honoured to have Collab as our first official partner at Archives. This is a business that will no doubt continue to grow rapidly and stir innovation in Niagara and beyond. Though he remains largely hidden behind the scenes, Nick’s fingerprints are poised to end up on an increasing number of labels in this province. We expect him to become a major player in Niagara’s drinks scene and couldn’t be more excited to introduce him and Collab today.

AWSM: What motivated you to start Collab?

Nick: We started the Collab project to give virtual brands more visibility in the marketplace. A collection of virtual brands under one roof helps remove hurdles and roadblocks to creating a brand and selling your products, and lowers production costs by sharing them across multiple brands; overhead costs, equipment and tank space, and sales and marketing expenses like packaging and shipping. It’s, in a sense, strength in numbers. While these things may not seem like they immediately give virtual brands more visibility, these help give producers an easier time starting up.

AWSM: Have there been any challenges?

Nick: Most of our challenges have stemmed from being fully virtual. While we run out of Ridgepoint Wines in Vineland and offer pickup options at Ridgepoint and Marynissen Estates in NOTL, there is no street address for you to visit Collab. The rest of our challenges have stemmed from the pandemic. Creating new brands without having the opportunity to get out into the world to talk about them has been really tough, and while relying on digital promotions worked for a bit, consumer behaviour shifted through each successive re-opening cycle.

AWSM: Any interesting drinks in the pipeline from your producers?

Nick: We always have something new and exciting in the works! We’ll be releasing some new products this year, including a barrel fermented Syrah rosé and a pink perry from Ev’s, and a Vidal Pet-Nat infused with blueberry and sage from Maenad. We’re also gearing up to launch 3 new brands this year, it’s gonna be a pretty wild and exciting year. We will be launching Finite (ultra-small batch experimental wines) Divergence Wines (extremely precise and focused wines crafted on a different path), and Skinny Dipping (skin fermented whites, rosés, and white and red co-ferments) this year, so stay tuned!

AWSM: You talk about wanting to expand beyond alcohol. What sort of products can you see joining the portfolio?

Nick: Consumer habits are changing, especially when it comes to drinking. People are starting to drink less, and it’s not just Gen Z and Millennials; alcohol consumption has slowed and decreased through multiple age brackets. Craft non-alcoholic beverage offerings are just starting to come to prominence in the marketplace, but they’re still overshadowed by their hard counterparts, and are often not very easy to find. We’ve seen a small boom in the last year or so of non-alcoholic offerings on shelves, with some being very tasty. We have a few ideas still in the very rough stages of planning, so I can’t promise anything in terms of a release plan just yet, but our plans include coffees, seltzers, sodas, and infusions to name a few.

AWSM: What sort of future do you see for virtual wine and cider makers in Ontario?

Nick: I’m really optimistic and bullish about the virtual brand scene in Ontario. With new legislation introduced over the past year or so (takeout alcohol, lower wholesale prices, two retail stores at the same address, two brands through one VQA license, etc.), producing virtual, small-batch, craft, and assorted-buzzword-laden wine and cider brands and getting them into the hands of consumers has never been easier. Gone are the days of relying solely on brick and mortar retail and foot traffic for sales, the restaurant and bottle shop community and fully embracing the virtual movement, and it can only go up from here.