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Lakeshore Artisan Wines: Cheers to a smooth transition in ownership

“The taste compared to big-brand names is very similar and often even better. The price, taste and quality are there.”
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The new owner of Lakeshore Artisan Wines, Meagan George, with previous owner Tom Down.

For the past 25 years, Tom Down has been the heart and soul of Lakeshore Artisan Wines. Recently, he passed the torch to Meagan George, a fellow local wine-making enthusiast, who is carrying on the tradition.

“The store was originally opened as a Wine Kitz franchise…The original owner was spread too thin, and I lived just around the corner,” Down recalled about how he started out in the business. “I inquired, which led to me purchasing it two months after it opened.”

Looking back on the 25 years of winemaking, Down has fond memories of the many people who have walked through his doors. “Most of our customers are regulars, but we have a few from out of town, including a couple from Toronto who have family here,” he said. Down knows many of their names and enjoyed getting to know them, and their favourite wines. 

Lakeshore Artisan Wines offers familiar reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, as well as popular whites such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. 

But the variety of wines far exceeds standard red and white favourites. Summer favourites like black cherry, blueberry, pineapple pear, and strawberry are also frequent purchases. 

The wine-making process takes only four to eight weeks, with fruit wines taking only four weeks. Many wines include options such as sweetness levels, sulphate-free choices and oak flavouring.

Down had first met George at a Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce Business After Five event and, more recently, crossed paths when George inquired about Tom’s plans for the future. That set in motion plans for Down to sell the business to someone with the energy and drive to take it to new places.

For George, transitioning to her new role has brought challenges and excitement. “I’ve been getting used to taking on the role and it’s newer equipment than what I’m used to,” George admitted. 

George gained a love for winemaking through eight years of working at another local wine-making store, gaining an understanding of the processes of winemaking while also growing its online presence through social media and website development. “It was getting the name out there, and telling people that we exist and what we do. Lunch events with the Chamber of Commerce and networking events,” she said.

Having already firmly grasped the operational side of things, George’s goal is to attract younger customers and get out in the community through events, activities and sponsorships. “When you’re chitchatting, you get to know people,” she said, adding that this is a great way for people to better understand what Lakeshore Artisan Wines stands for.

George encourages the community to look for exciting events and activities planned for the future. “I’ll be making the name more prominent in the community,” she said enthusiastically and looks forward to getting to know more people in the community who love great wine. 

Down echoed this sentiment, highlighting how he has built many close relationships with customers. “It’s a much closer relationship with a customer than any other kind of retail. When I was in the furniture business, you might see someone once every four years if you ever saw them again. In this business, you see some customers every month.”

For those who have never tried bottling wine, this may be a great time to try it out. “If you’re a regular, consistent wine drinker, it’s very cost-effective,” George said. “The taste compared to big-brand names is very similar and often even better. The price, taste and quality are there.”

Down agreed, adding, “We have an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. If you make wine with us and you don’t care for it, we’ll replace it at no charge or refund your money even if it turned out the way it was supposed to.” As the new owner, George will also keep this satisfaction guarantee in place. 

In Down’s 25 years of business, he had only issued one refund, a testament to the quality of the wine. 

As Down has now moved on to let George take on the business, he hasn’t planned many retirement goals quite yet. “I’m just focusing on getting the sale done, then after that’s done I’ll sit back and I’ll decide," he said, while also hinting that he will likely be spending more time on his sailboat. 

Although moving on to other endeavours is bittersweet, Down knows the business is in good hands, and leaves George with words of wisdom: “A fellow said to me one time, ‘Retail is pretty simple. Just treat people how you’d like to be treated.’” This philosophy has helped Lakeshore Artisan Wines develop real relationships with its customers over the years and will continue serving Sarnia for many years to come.

Drop by Lakeshore Artisan Wines at 645 Lakeshore Road in Sarnia (at Colborne Road) to congratulate the new owner and experience winemaking. They’re open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

You can also learn about the art of fine winemaking at Lakeshore Artisan Wines’ website.


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