You will remember Jackie Fast from the 2018 series of ‘The Apprentice’ on BBC television. Jackie was the pugnacious, occasionally over-assertive, but highly effective candidate who made it through to week nine of the series before being fired by Lord Sugar for already being “a semi-oak tree,” when he was looking for acorns to nurture.
Prior to her appearance on the show, Canadian-born Fast had sold her sponsorship business, Slingshot Sponsorship, for an undisclosed sum rumoured to run into millions of pounds. In a Forbes magazine interview in 2015, Slingshot was described as “an international, award winning agency with 10 staff headquartered in trendy Islington in North London and with offices in Brazil, Singapore and Oslo.”
Though candidates on The Apprentice are clearly coached to ‘big-up’ their business acheivements and acumen, it seems Fast was the real deal, and indeed I suspected she would not be a woman to sit around waiting for fate to intervene when she contacted me, even before the series aired, about her new wine business. It was clearly going ahead with or without Apprentice success.
In 2018 she launched her own wine brand, called ‘Rebel Pi’, a Canadian icewine. Canada is #1 country in the world for the production of icewine, and though living in London for over a decade, Fast says that while she was aware of icewine growing up in Canada, it didn’t really resonate with her because of the very thing that makes it so popular: its extreme sweetness. Her idea was to make a slightly less sweet icewine, so she began researching potential winemaking partners in British Columbia.
The resulting wine for this single-product brand, Rebel Pi, is made at family-run boutique winery, Pentâge, in the Okanagan Valley (which is also Jackie Fast’s birthplace). The wine is unusual for an icewine, because it is made from the Rhône variety, Roussanne. Indeed, as Rebel Pi’s publicity material points out, it is the world’s first Roussanne icewine. Following the usual icewine practice of being harvested during the night at -8°C, it is fermented to 11% alcohol and has 233g/l of residual sugar. On the Rebel Pi website it sells for £139 per half bottle, though there are slightly cheaper stockists. The website also features cocktail recipes should you decide to invest in one of the 1600 bottles produced from the 2016 vintage.
Asking £100+ for a half bottle of dessert wine newly launched on the market is, in typical Jackie Fast style, a bold move. Will it work? Is the wine worth it? Two different questions, possibly with two different answers.
In absolute terms, a half bottle of Château Rieussec 2017 can be had for £26, Fortnum & Mason will sell you their lovely Riesling Eiswein made by Helmut Lang in Austria for £28.50 and indeed, the highly-regarded icewine from Peller Estate on the Niagra Peninsula will cost less than half of Rebel Pi’s price. And yet the product is unique, is niche, and the brand is being managed by one hard-working, fearless go-getter.
If Jackie Fast can get it on the right wine lists, in front of the right people, there’s no doubt a market exists for such a little slice of the unexpected.