Uncle Freddy of ‘Black Wine’ fame passes on
May 11, 2007
Uncle Freddy of ‘Black Wine’ fame passes on


Frederick Adolphus Gonsalves MBE, a local pioneer in the wine-making business died on May 4, 2007. Uncle Freddy, as he was affectionately known on the many radio talk shows he called in to, was laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption on Monday, May 7. In tribute to this nation builder, SEARCHLIGHT re-prints this article which was first published on October 25, 2001.

IN THE COLONIAL DAYS when Sugar was King and Strong Rum was a penny for a nip, almost everybody knew how to make Mountain Dew, a home-made Strong Rum.{{more}}

The stilling of Mountain Dew was an illegal operation and offenders actually went to prison as a result. Mountain Dew was not only cheaper but considered stronger than the legal rum and was therefore in great demand; one of the few families who challenged the law and conducted an underground operation was the Riffins at Cane End.

It is therefore no coincidence that Frederick “Freddy” Gonsalves, one of the grandchildren of that Riffin family of Mountain Dew fame is today a pioneer in Wine making.

Gonsalves Black Wine is a Vincentian household name and a vital ingredient in our Christmas tradition. Whether as appetizer, after dinner drink or an ingredient in cakes, the average Vincentian housewife is never satisfied that her Vincy Traditional Black Cake is complete without a portion of wine, and not just any wine will do, it must be Gonsalves Black Wine.

Freddy was born on July 15, 1923 to Mary Riffin and Joseph “Joe” Gonsalves. Joe’s father Emmanuel Gonsalves was a Portugese seaman who abandoned ship when his boat landed in St. Vincent. Joe was the father of seventeen children from two marriages. The second marriage between Joseph and Mary produced nine offspring, Freddy being the first.

Freddy grew up with his parents and 16 siblings in Middle Street, Kingstown; the family occupied the first floor of the house, while on the ground floor his dad or “Papa” operated a bakery, grocery and dry goods store; he also produced a variety of aerated soft drinks (Fru-t), Kola and Black Wine.

Private school was popular in the 1920s, and Freddy had his full share with stints at Miss Forde’s, Misses Clarke and Busby’s, and Ebenezer Joshua’s (former Chief Minister) before transferring to St. Mary’s R.C Primary School.

A staunch Catholic, he served as an Acolyte and received a stipend of twelve cents weekly for Altar-boy services from Fr. Charles. He smilingly admits acquiring a taste for good wines during those early days when he and his buddy Abdon De Freitas were delegated by Fr Charles with the sole responsibility to secure the Communion Wines.

As typical lads would, they found great pleasure sampling, a bit excessively, the regular supply of a fine brand of wine that Fr. Charles imported from France.

Freddy had no great interest in the art of wine-making except on the rare occasion when he assisted with the bottling of his father’s products, a chore in which every family member participated. But when the family moved to Georgetown and opened the Mt Bentick Store, he sensed that all was not well, Papa needed help. With two years left to complete formal secondary education at the Intermediate High School, he decided to quit school and joined the business.

While at Georgetown he happily recalls a visit from Ena De Freitas his former neighbour in Middle Street and close friends of his sisters, coming to spend a weekend with the family; it was during that visit that Freddy realized he had an irresistible attraction to Ena that eventually materialized into a happy marriage on the eve of his birthday in 1950. That marriage has produced five offspring, including a son Lennox “Becks” Gonsalves, a leading Importer and Distributor of Liquors and Wines.

Freddy Gonsalves Enterprise actually began in 1947 when his father died; this was after the family business had moved back to Kingstown and virtually failed. Freddy at that time ran a small Grocery and Variety Store. He was a skilled young man and augmented his business with personal hand made animated toys, fitted together parts that he had ordered from overseas. When Freddy took over his dad’s business, the stocks and equipment valued at $108.00.

Among the stocks was a wooden barrel (cast) that was used for making Black Wine. His first attempt at making wine was a dismal failure and Freddy speaks of “crying a fountain of tears” when he had to empty his first batch of Vinegar, 100 gallons of it down the drain. The second effort was a great improvement and from then on, Gonsalves Black Wine simply got better and better.

Gonsalves Wines because of the distinct dark colour, its fruity flavour and alcohol content was proclaimed the ideal ingredient for the Christmas cake. But Freddy was bent on producing a Black Wine that was fit for the dinner table. He therefore resorted to textbooks on “How to make Wines” and also imported Flavours and Carmel (colouring) from the U.K. The other ingredients and proportions are highly guarded secrets that only Freddy holds.

Gonsalves Black Wine is now available on the shelves in the Caribbean and North America. At age 76 he is still actively involved in the business that he now operates in a unit close to his home at Paul Over. He is very much involved in current affairs and is heard regularly making valuable contributions to the daily Call In Radio Programs.

Freddy Gonsalves who for the last fifty years has successfully developed and perfected the Black Wine, an excellent product that is truly Vincy and one that deserves honourable mention as we celebrate 22 years of Independence.