Learning about Cuban wine in the first place was quite a surprise. I know when I think about Cuba, I think Mafia-worthy cigars, roast pork sandwiches and my next dream travel destination. Hearing about a Cuban winery that uses condoms in the winemaking process took the surprise factor up a few notches.
Orestes Estevez is a Cuban winemaker, and his family makes 6,000 liters of wine each year at the El Canal winery – despite a lack of traditional winemaking tools. These circumstances forced Orestes to get a little creative when it came to substituting for his missing tools. Hence the condoms.
Why can’t he just order winemaking equipment from Amazon, you may ask? Part of the reason is the trade embargo the United States has with Cuba, and the Associated Press also cites the inefficiencies of Cuba’s centrally-planned economy. I’m also betting that the country’s heavily censored Internet, which is illegal to use in private homes, takes a lot of online shopping out of the equation.
The El Canal winery has origins as an illicit backyard production, but has grown into quite the business operation. Estevez, 65, has made wine for decades, and legalized his business in 2000 when Cuba began allowing private enterprise. He runs the winery with his wife, son and an assistant. Reportedly, the winery has become a neighborhood hotspot, drawing neighbors who sit on the curb at all hours of the day sipping Cuban wine from green glasses.
Ok, back to the main point. How do condoms fit into this equation? Inside the winery, hundreds of 5-gallon jugs are capped with condoms that inflate as the wine ferments and releases carbon dioxide. This CO2 pushes itself into the condom, causing it to inflate (a small hole is poked in the condom so it won’t get too big and pop). When the fermentation ends and no more gases are released, the condom stops inflating and falls. The condom also keeps the wine safe from the environment, keeping insects and germs out, and prevents oxygen from going into the jug and oxidizing the wine.
As Estevez so eloquently puts it, “Putting a condom on a bottle is just like with a man. It stands up, the wine is ready, and then the process is completed.”
This whole process takes between 30-45 days to complete. El Canal sells about 50 bottles a day for 10 Cuban pesos each (around 40 cents USD) – budget wine just got a whole new meaning. Cubans earn an average of $25 a month and can’t afford imported wine at state-run liquor stores, so Estevez is clearly the real MVP.