Decanting details

A small-scale winery, Homecraft ferments a passion for personal winemaking

Homecraft Brew and Wine Supplies describe their store as a small-scale winery.
Homecraft Brew and Wine Supplies describe their store as a small-scale winery.

It was a Bed Bath & Beyond for winemakers and beer crafters.

Stacks of winemaking kits covered most of the walls and some of the floor space of Homecraft Brew & Wine Supplies, while ingredients and paraphernalia for beer crafting occupied another wall. To the left of the entrance the automated winery machinery worked on several batches of wine.

At a first glance, the metal machines looked complicated and daunting, as though I’d just stepped into a small factory.

The wine and beer making supply story is a ways away from Queen’s campus, located uptown on Princess St., but for many it’s worth the travel time. I wandered into the store last week for a first-hand experience.

Admittedly I was a little intimidated. I couldn’t think of anyone I know in their twenties who makes their own wine. However, before I could be overwhelmed, Rob Sulley, the vice president of Homecraft Brew & Wine Supplies, warmly welcomed me.

He said that the aim of their business is to share the unique experience of personal winemaking. “Anybody can do it as long as you’re legal drinking age.

Typically [our customers are] 35 to 65 years old but they’re getting younger and younger [because] it’s getting cooler for people to do things themselves,” Sulley said.

I soon learned that personal winemaking can remedy student vexations when it comes to alcohol, like tighter student budgets and making inconvenient trips to the LCBO.

Winemaking kits, which include a wine fermenter and filter, allow customers to make a batch of up to 30 bottles of wine at an average cost of $6 per bottle. The process, which can be completed either in-store or at home, takes on average six to eight weeks.

Though the upfront cost may seem disconcerting, I appreciated that $6 per bottle seemed much more conducive to a student budget in the long run.

Personally-made wine, Sulley said, has a smaller carbon footprint, and contains fewer sulphites and chemicals since it’s not transported in bottles across vast distances.

Prior to this experience, the only familiar tie I had to winemaking was the finished bottles on store shelves — products of winery work.

I realized that personal winemaking provides entertainment and great wine in large quantities at a lower cost. Although there’s a waiting period for the wine to ferment, for some it can be quite the fair trade-off considering the result and relative ease of the process.

“You’re involved but [everything else is] all automated machinery. It’s very simple and it’s fun. We do all the heavy lifting,” Sulley said.

Homecraft offers a 100 per cent guarantee, meaning that if a customer is unhappy with their wine they can simply make another batch at no charge.

They carry about 60 different reds and 60 whites.

Winexpert, the store’s product supplier, is owned by Andrew Peller Limited of Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, who own most personal winemaking stores in the industry.

“Winexpert goes to vineyards all over the world and they contract for the grapes just like any other winery. It’s based mostly on demand,” Sulley said.

“The most popular wines at the LCBO are going to be available here.”

With the exception of the grapes used, the process for making red and white wines is essentially the same, however the process for sparkling wine is much more expensive and labour-intensive.

“You have to be pretty committed to drinking bubbly to personally make it,” he said.

Contrary to wide beliefs, wine tasting doesn’t always have to be about “wine and cheese,” which is the wine world’s equivalent of vanilla ice cream.

Sulley said that while everyone tends to have their own methods for tastings, there are standard rules for wine tasting etiquette and procedure.

“I would probably do a wine and food pairing,” he said. “So you have certain foods and you would try them all with a certain wine and learn how the wine changes depending on the food you’re eating.”

Sulley himself confessed that a personal favourite from his last wine tasting involved Lay’s chips and a sweet wine.

I was more intrigued by the thought of making my own wine. Images danced across my imagination of the uses I’d get out of my reserve of personally made wine — the wine that would be opened at the family dinner table, enjoyed with friends for a wine-and-food tasting night or wrapped beautifully as gifts.

My interest was definitely piqued though I was at a loss for how to begin.

“We have a starter kit that gives you all the equipment if you want to do it at home. If you want to do it here, you just come in and choose your kit, add the yeast and [come back when your wine is ready],” he said.

Homecraft, and other stores in the industry, are very accessible with their focus on demand and their customers. It’s a social place where people go to make great wine, save money and the atmosphere promotes a good mood.

“You’ve just got to do it once and you’ll fall in love with it ... There’s nothing magical in what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re doing what wineries are doing, just on a smaller scale.”

I may have just found my new hobby.

Wine with whimsy

Wine tastings don’t always need to be paired with cheese to enhance the flavour and experience of the wine. If you’re looking to add pizazz to your next gathering, look to these unusual pairings that may just bring out the best in your wine.

Gummy bears: Moscato d’Asti

Granola with yogurt: Mimosas or plain cava

Buttered popcorn: California chardonnay

Potato chips: Dry champagne

Olives: Garnacha (red) and assyrtiko (white)

Pesto sauce: Sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio

Ice cream sandwich: Late-harvest zinfandel

Chocolate chip cookies: Tawny port

Guacamole: Torrontes (mild recipe) or gruner veltliner (spicy recipe)

Fish and chips: Chardonnay; chablis or any other white
burgundy/’bourgogne blanc’

Pop Tarts: Brachetto d’Acqui

Hot dogs: Dry rose if plain, pinot noir if with mustard, zinfandel if with chili

Peanut M&Ms: Tawny port

PB&J: A jammy shiraz

Chicken & waffles: Drier-style champagne

Chocolate chip pancakes with syrup: Sparkling shiraz

— Katie Grandin Sources:

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