COVENTRY – Sheila Gold began making wine as a hobby, one that her son Andrew hoped would comfort her several years after the death of her husband, Dr. Benson Gold in 1996. That sense of comfort and warmth still informs all of the activities at the successful ShelaLara Winery that Gold runs with two of her sons, Andrew and Jason (Jay).
During the week, Andrew, chief winemaker, supervises the winemaking in a large, meticulously cleaned production area. Andrew said that he works as long as the wine requires, adding, “Some nights I don’t even go home.”
Jay and Sheila cover sales and marketing with Dan Ribeiro, sales manager.
The winery produces classic wines such as Chardonnay and Merlot, and some limited edition vintage wines, but it is its fruit essence wines that are quite special. These have names such as “Succulent Strawberry Riesling” or “Pomegranate Wildberry.” They are distinctive in flavor, low in sulfites and free of any artificial colors or flavors. When frozen, they form a slush, which is still pure wine
The brothers worked together to create the unique wine slush, for which the patent is pending. The formula, 18 months in the making, came about through observation and accident – “and a lot of broken machinery” at the beginning, as Andrew tells it.
The slush is so revolutionary in the wine world that they are marketing it as “Gaspee Fruit Essence Wine Slush,” a name that resonates with Rhode Islanders.
The demand among restaurants, bars and stores is growing. “Once people try our wine,” Jay said. “They love it because it’s not what they’re expecting.” People also do not expect to even find a winery in Coventry – so the tag line on their labels reads: “Yes – a winery in Coventry.”
Three times a day on Saturday and Sunday, all three Golds host the tours and tastings, which are open to the public by reservation. Guests come from all across the country and must have their ages checked upon entering – no exceptions.
A slush is sampled, then Andrew leads visitors on a tour of the production facility, speaking knowledgeably and passionately about each step of the process.
Then the guests sit at tables and each receives a list of the dozen or more wines to be sampled. Andrew describes each one as it is poured and plates of cheese and crackers are served, as well as mini-pizzas from the Original Italian Bakery in Johnston.
Sheila goes from table to table, like a mother at a bar mitzvah luncheon, making sure the guests have enough of everything and are enjoying themselves.
“She rolls out the red carpet, introduces herself to everyone,” said Jay.
“If you’re not hospitable, this is the wrong business to be in,” says Andrew.
Jay concurred, adding, “How you treat people is the bottom line to this place.”
Each guest gets a souvenir wine glass and directions to make the slush; bottles of wine are available to purchase.
ShelaLara began commercial operations nine years ago in a former tire factory on Valley Street in Providence. They moved to a larger building in Coventry in 2005 and have slowly been expanding both their production facilities and their space for welcoming guests.
When the Golds first began, they laboriously hand-bottled their wine in small quantities; now Andrew is the master of a bottling machine from Italy that can vacuum-pack and label 1,500 bottles an hour. Their Farmer-Winery license entitles them to sell directly to restaurants and liquor stores, and enables them to develop relationships with their clients.
Their grapes come from different sources. Like many wineries, ShelaLara has grapes grown to its specifications – in Coventry, California, New York and even Italy. The shipped grapes arrive under refrigeration and Andrew takes it from there. This allows the winery to label their wines as being “produced” and “bottled” by ShelaLara. All of their ingredients are kosher, the Golds explained, but they do not yet have a hekhsher (kosher symbol) on their bottles. They are exploring the possibility of “kosherizing” the facility in the future.
During the past two years – which brought a large increase in orders and growing name recognition – they have learned to balance inventory with rising demand. The winery, which plans to expand its distribution across the border into Massachusetts, generously donates wines for fundraising events and hosts groups from local organizations.
Sheila is always there, welcoming everyone. Her boys are protective of her, and proud.
Jay said, fondly, “She’s a rock star. People ask for her; when she’s not there, it’s not the same.”
SHELALARA: shelalara.com or 623-8606.
NAOMI LIPSKY (email@example.com), a Judaic artist in Johnston, is a freelance writer for The Jewish Voice & Herald.
THIS IS ONE of a series of occasional articles about local businesses, some of which advertise with this paper.