Wine it With Zee’s
“Wine makes all things possible.” This philosophy, delivered by American novelist George R.R. Martin, resonates sweetly with the creators of Zee’s Wines.
For almost a decade, Zee’s Wines have been the talk of the town in St Elizabeth, fermenting more than 50 unique flavours of organic vinos from locally grown products fresh from the farm to palatable pleasures on many tables all across the island. Food caught up with business owner Don-Hugh Lee at the beautiful Dub Club on Skyline Drive in Jack’s Hill to find out more about the journey to Zee’s.
The company, he explained, was the brainchild of his mother, Zenora Whyte. Whyte, who was a teacher at the Newell High School, was responsible for the 4-H efforts, entered a competition in schools. It blossomed into competition among parishes, and Whyte began doing research into making wines as one of the projects. That year, she made a wine from yellow yam. Based on its success, she was encouraged to try yet another wine, and the Irish potato emerged on the sipping scene as a new tasty flavour.
Lee said he was unaware of Whyte’s adventure at the time until he returned home one weekend and saw her experimenting with wines from any just about any flavour profile she could get her hands on, like fruits, mangoes, cherries and apples, fermenting the out in every available container she could find.
Over the years, the parish did well at Denbigh. Pretty soon, she began tapping into the herbal side, creating aloe vera and peppermint wines, and she received good reviews for them.
“Persons in the community would come by the house just to sample them and persuaded her to make a business out of it. After tasting quite a few of the wines, I joined the boosting bandwagon, advocating for Mom to create for purchase,” he shared. Six years ago, they decided to pursue her passion professionally. The name Zee’s was later coined by persons who gave Whyte that specific nickname. this was to honour her legacy.
FEASIBILITY OF WINES
Not all the wines were feasible, according to Lee, but the dynamic mother-son duo aimed to find the best products out of the brand. They went on to set aside some money to build a structure, outside of the house, for winemaking purposes because Whyte had been creating from the kitchen all along. It was also approaching the time that she was about to retire from the teaching field, so here was an opportunity for her to set sail on a new, thrilling horizon as an entrepreneur.
Whyte then met Maelle Johnson at Denbigh, and her life changed completely. Johnson tasted the wines and loved them. She invited them both to come to an event she was staging in Kingston, but they didn’t take up the offer. Luckily, Johnson was persistent and contacted Whyte once again about meeting. “It has been a blessing to meet Maelle because she has been helping us to discover the true potential of what we do, sharing insights and assisting with networking,” Lee said.
The team also looked into regulating the business and enlisted the help of the Bureau of Standards in Westmoreland. “We have gone through several stages and are officially certified by the entity in terms of quality and safe practices with productions.”
With Whyte now retired, she’s now a full-fledged winemaker, creating and refining from locally grown herbs, spice, and fruits (from the community) such as guinean weed, noni, pomegranate, cashew, ribena, grapes, fever grass, moringa, chocolate, banana, promoting all the health benefits they have to offer. The company has more surprises in store.
Whyte goes for the creativity, while Lee focuses on the business aspect. Told that the wine is in a saturated market, Lee expressed that Zee’s Wines has been slowly but surely gaining traction in St Elizabeth, surrounding areas, and in Kingston. Customers will literally follow in hot pursuit just to get the wines.
So what’s next: getting in on shelves everywhere. Dub Club is the first official client in the city and promoter, selector Gabre Selassie shared that he encourages local products so he’s happy to have us on board. All the wines are currently sweet, but since many are becoming health conscious, the next direction is to produce a dry wine line.
For more information on how you can get a bottle or three of Zee’s Wines, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org call: 876-374-6043, or check out the instagram page: @Zees_wines.