Handcrafted in small batches with organic, locally sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging, this vegan one-of-kind brand is taking the winemaking world by storm. Revolutionary founder and herbalist, Aaliyah Nitoto, combines her two loves: flowers and wine, to create not only a delicious new drink but a forward-thinking business that is kind to the environment and community.
Despite a barrage of setbacks including racism, sexism and grape supremacy (yes, really), this change-making founder faces old-school elitism head on to amplify women’s voices, champion inclusivity and inject fun into winemaking and meet-ups.
To you and I, wine made with flowers, not grapes, might be a brand new concept. But as Aaliyah Nitoto, the revolutionary founder of Free Range Flower Winery, discovered, it dates back centuries to the ancient Egyptians and Romans when women would concoct flower wine in their homes.
Why flower wine?
With her DIY-maker spirit burning strong, and an attraction to the healing properties of flower essences, wine enthusiast and herbalist Nitoto couldn’t let this buried historical discovery pass her by – she had to try it for herself.
Nitoto started experimenting with her favourite flowers and passed her homemade floral wine blends onto friends for them to taste. After receiving positive feedback, she started selling bottles in her native Oakland. With her zesty prototype lavender wine in tow, Nitoto started attending business classes on the side of her day job as a community-based nutritionist to learn more about how she could grow her side-hustle into something bigger.
Now, her wine batches reach far beyond Oakland, selling out to stockists and customers across America, but Nitoto’s journey is far from an overnight success.
In the early days, to scale her new blossoming flower wine business, Nitoto knew that she needed bigger premises and some stockists to expand the reach of her innovative organic produce. Nitoto faced a barrage of setbacks from racism to sexism and even grape supremacy! The elitist winemaking world wasn’t ready for flower wine, deeming it “not wine” (or worthy) because it was made with flowers, not grapes. Despite this, Nitoto’s fighting spirit didn’t hold her back.
Not only does Free Range Flower Winery create mouth-watering one-of-a-kind flavours, but they use organic, locally-sourced ingredients, sustainable packaging and ethical business practices – a modern, lifestyle brand with taste and substance. They challenge old-school elitism by amplifying women’s voices, focusing on inclusivity and injecting the fun factor. They also build community through taste experiences and encourage social responsibility.
Nitoto’s own experiences have motivated her to create a company that gives back and empowers disadvantaged communities. To address the lack of diversity in winemaking, she envisions hiring and mentoring more BIPOC and women. Nitoto says, “There seem to be more and more wine lovers looking to actively support Black-owned wineries and Black-owned businesses in general,” she says. “I hope the majority of people in this country understand the value of diversity, and hopefully they will show up for us in the wine industry.”
“It’s awesome to be a woman, and an African American trailblazing. Only 2% are women in the winemaking industry. Of that small number, only 1% of them are African American.”
On breaking into the winemaking industry
Winemaker Phil Long, president of the Association of African American Vintners, expresses his admiration for Nitoto defying odds at every turn. “She is not only a young black woman getting into the wine world, which is not as diverse as it should be, but she’s also making a new category. She’s branding a new category that doesn’t exist in this industry... she’s very unique."
Nitoto likes to advise budding business owners too. There is a tenacity and determination in her perception of failure. "As an African American woman in the wine business, I have seen and been part of discrimination on several levels. We have lost out on partnerships and collaborations because of who I am, but we don’t walk away. We find another path to success. And that’s my advice for other women and minorities in our industry. Don’t accept discrimination; don’t feed the beast."
She suggests that it’s not about denying disappointments completely, but acknowledging them and allowing yourself to move on despite setbacks. "I made a pact with myself. I would only mourn this lost opportunity for a set time, then I would keep pushing forward. It was important for me to process my feelings, and creating a clearly defined time for disappointment made it easier to put it behind me. You could be missing that big break while wallowing in self-pity. I wasn’t going to let that happen. And pretty soon, I got the break I was looking for."
On the winemaking process
Nitoto avoids adding flavours or ingredients to the wine blends during the fermentation and florification process (the flower version of vinification – from fermentation to bottling) unlike some of the bigger wine companies. Instead, she uses a range of processes to achieve juicy, natural flavours and aromas from locally sourced flowers and organic fruit. In contrast to the sweetness of garden wines made with dandelions and elderflowers, Free Range Flower Winery blends tend to be dry.
Now, Nitoto delights in the most surprising thing about her journey – the community of wine drinkers that support the brand and make her realise that anything is possible.
So, what’s next for Free Range Flower Winery? “There are so many edible flowers that I can’t wait to make into wine.”Free Range Flower Winery describes the origins of flower winemaking from centuries gone by, and how a historical class system that favoured the upper class meant that flower winemaking wasn’t taken seriously.
“DIY winemakers in Europe and Colonial America crafted homespun garden wines from dandelions, elderflowers, gilliflowers, roses, and countless varietal blends. Since these winemakers were mostly women, and the ingredients for their wine did not come from the vines of lordly estates, their recipes were not given the same prestige as that of the noble grapes – until now.” Now, Nitoto hands power back to women and disadvantaged communities who struggled to thrive in centuries gone by.
On the flower wine flavours
Free Range Flower Winery currently stocks flavoured wines to suit every palate: ‘RoseHybiscus’ for the red wine aficionados; ‘RosePetal’ for the rosé connoisseurs; ‘Marigold’ for the white wine devotees; and simply ‘L’ – a unique lavender-flavoured blend; the vintner’s original prototype and bestseller.
Known for its calming properties, this lavender-infused blend provides instant relaxation in the first few sips, says founder Nitoto.
“‘L’ is lightly effervescent, so it sparkles. It’s elegant and celebratory. The body feels so relaxing, and the floral nose is pure joy,” says Free Range Flower Winery.
Nitoto brings a mystical element to her flavours too: “Lavender and rose scent has the highest vibration energetically. It’s what people use when they want to make changes in the way they feel.”
RoseHybiscus is the closest thing to a red grape wine – great for the suspicious or apprehensive that prefer to dip their taste buds into something more familiar. The award-winning fruity, electric ruby-red blend is, “dry and light-bodied, a harmonious balance of earth and fruit flavours, sage and raspberry, luxuriously spice with velvety tannins.”
RosePetal, the closest companion to grape-based rose wine, “greets you with amber rouge beauty in the glass and the scent of wild roses, strawberry and autumn leaves.” The taste is described as, “dry, robust, and well-balanced with earthy, white pepper overtones and a silky, warm finish.”
Golden Marigold is the first to resemble a traditional white wine. A summer delight with first impressions said to bring about the joys of, “freshly mowed grass, summer sun, and white chocolate truffle,” and its tasting notes: “Vibrant, juicy and polished. Full-bodied and well-balanced with an enlivening, herbal finish,” – a mouth-watering medley!
Sit Back & Enjoy!
Whether it’s sipping it on a balmy summer’s evening or gifting it to a friend for a special occasion, trust us when we say this is THE wine to be seen with. We’ll just sit back and sip while Free Range Flower Winery takes the wine world by storm.