Canadian-born, London-based Jackie Fast studied in Beijing before setting up her own sponsorship company, Slingshot, from her bedroom in 2010 with just a laptop and £2,000. The plucky entrepreneur is currently competing in the 14th series of The Apprentice, which airs on BBC1 at 9pm on Wednesday evenings. Fast made a pretty penny from the sale of Slingshot in 2016. Taking a year off to write a book and get married, this year she launched her first wine project – Rebel Pi – an icewine from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia priced at £139 a bottle. We caught up with Jackie to get the lowdown on Rebel Pi.
The wine industry is notoriously competitive and crowded – why did you decide to launch your own wine?
For exactly that reason. I love a challenge and work best when I have to struggle. I was very young when I launched my sponsorship business and after a few years I got to the stage when it wasn’t hard anymore and I wanted to be challenged.
The wine industry presented a completely new challenge for me and the fact that it’s cluttered makes it more appealing, as I see it as a huge opportunity. The industry is full of family run businesses rather than business people, so I think there’s room for someone with real business acumen.
When did you first get interested in wine?
My parents used to make craft wine at home, so I got my first exposure to wine through that. Running a wine business appeals to me as I work better when I feel like I’m going to lose all of my money. I don’t like being complacent. Before embarking on this project I had no idea how icewine was produced and was blown away by the process.
How did Rebel Pi come about?
I had been trying to buy a vineyard in the Okanagan for a few years with no success. I took a year off after selling my subscription company and during my honeymoon tried an amazing icewine from Inniskillin that made me want to find out more about how it was made.
I ended up collaborating with a boutique winery called Pentâge in British Columbia, which overlooks Skaha Lake. Rebel Pi is made from Roussane grapes from Pentâge’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ single vineyard.
Sweet wine is a tough sell, why did you choose to make an icewine?
I wanted to take on something challenging and get my head around why people don’t drink it at the moment. People associate sweet wine with what their grandfather would drink and think all stickies are ridiculously sweet, which isn’t the case.
I wanted to disrupt the category and make sweet wine sexy and cool. I’ve worked with everyone from Sir Richard Branson to The Rolling Stones, so I want to make the sweet wine category more nimble and change the target market.
How long did it take to make your icewine dream a reality?
The project moved very quickly. I sold Slingshot two years ago and the first bottles of the Rebel Pi 2016 have just been shipped to the UK.
What makes Rebel Pi different from other icewines on the market?
It’s the only icewine in the world made with 100% Roussanne because it’s f*cking impossible to make. Most people use Riesling as it stands up better to the cold and wind. Roussanne is a bitch to grow, but the expression you get from it is totally unique.
It’s less sweet than other icewines, and more fruit forward. My wine has 233g/l of sugar but it isn’t cloying at all, as you might expect it to be from such a high sugar content.
There isn’t a lot a Roussanne planted in the world, which adds to Rebel Pi’s rarity. Production from the inaugural 2016 vintage was just 1,633 bottles. As a comparison, Château d’Yquem makes around 10,000 bottles a year.
Rebel Pi doesn’t come cheap – how do you justify the £139 price tag?
You get 10 drops of juice per grape when you make table wines. With icewine you get just one drop per grape, so I should be charging a lot more for it.
It’s an expensive wine to make as the grapes have to be hand picked and crushed at -10°. It’s a lot harder to produce a good ice wine than a Sauternes – Rebel Pi is a lot rarer than Yquem and tastes a hell of a lot better.
Have you won any UK listings for Rebel Pi yet?
I’m currently in talks with a number of restaurants and private members clubs in London who will be looking to sell it with a low mark-up at around £180 a bottle. I’m also in talks with a number of TV programmes to try and get Rebel Pi featured. I used to sell ideas so it’s great to have a physical product to sell.
Who is your target market for Rebel Pi?
People who don’t want to follow the crowd who have previously turned their noses up at sweet wine. I want to create new drinking occasions for icewine. The ‘pi’ in the name is a hat tip to my love of mathematics and also a nod to the fact that icewine is so hard to produce – all the elements have to be right in order to make it.
Do you make the wine yourself?
No, I leave that to the team at Pentâge – I can barely keep house plants alive!
Do you plan on adding to the Rebel Pi brand with other products?
Yes. I’m in talks with a lot of vineyards in Canada and further afield about buying their juice to make icewine. It’s a very risky wine to make and you can’t produce it every year, as some years it won’t be cold enough, or the crop might be scavenged by birds. My ultimate goal is to produce around 10,000 bottles of icewine a year.
I’m also looking to produce a sparkling alcopop-style drink from icewine and Champagne that I’m keen to sell in Asia. I’m half Chinese, went to university in Beijing and have family in Hong Kong, so I think I could play well in that market. If the alcopop idea takes off then I’d like to build it up to a 500,000-bottle brand.