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Fruits of your labor
Many wine enthusiasts are turning their love of tasting it into a passion for creating it
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A beer kit includes all the ingredients needed to make your own beer. - photo by Tom Reed

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Rick Foote, Hall County’s recycling coordinator, talks about how he brews beer.

GAINESVILLE — Homemade beer has been brewing up for many years in basements and kitchens, but today’s palates have become a little more sophisticated.

Which is why homebrewers can now branch out into wines with their own versions of chardonnays or pinot noirs — all available in convenient kits.

"It’s a small percentage of people that make beer and a larger percentage of people that make wine," said Craig Cook, owner of My Brew Heaven in Gainesville. "Wine making is a much bigger part of the business than beer and has grown by leaps and bounds.

"More and more people are interested in good wine."

Cook said he believes wine or beer making is a culinary hobby that people do simply because they love it.

"You and I can always afford to go to the store and buy a $6 bottle of wine or six pack," he said. "But they do it because they want a hobby that is relaxing and fun. But we have a lot of sophisticated palates in Gainesville living around the lake who aren’t going to settle for second-rate stuff."

Lance Huthwaite, a former vineyard owner and a dentist in Gainesville, began brewing beer at home years ago and has added making wine to his repertoire.

"I started with beer and switched over to wine. Now I find myself drinking wine more than beer," Huthwaite said.

"(I make) all different styles for variety. We never know what meals we want to serve it with," he said. "It’s nice in at the holidays to give out personalized bottles."

Huthwaite has been a loyal customer at My Brew Heaven, which opened in 1993, according to Cook.

"We buy the wine kits with the juice, which makes about 25 bottles per batch," Huthwaite said. "On Saturday I did a batch with a friend that I gave a (wine) kit to for a birthday present, it took about one hour to get the equipment sanitized and cleaned, then it’s just a matter of closing it up."

The process of fermenting the wine takes about two weeks for the primary fermentation, he said.

"Then you put the clean wine in another vessel and add ingredients to preserve ... This wine is just as good as what you would buy commercially."

My Brew Heaven, the oldest store of its kind in Georgia, carries 40 to 50 different wine kits, "which is 6 gallons of pure grape juice or whatever juice is in the box," Cook said. Wine making kits sell for about $240, while beer-making kits are $160.

"(We have) anything as simple as peach chardonnay blend ... Then there are the premiums, what we would call the dinner-style wines, which always rate in professional tastings. These are $25- to $40-a-bottle quality. The most expensive that someone could make at home is $6 a bottle."

The premium wine varieties available in the kits include reds such as French cabernet sauvingnon, Italian luna rossa and pinot noir and whites of French chardonnay, Johannesburg riesling and pinot grigio.

"People like the full flavors (of red wines) ... the juices come from all of the world — Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, lots of California, Australia," Cook said.

When making a batch of wine at home, the cost is much less than buying the equivalent amount of bottles at your local wine shop.

"Most of the wines are $4 to $5 a bottle," Cook said. "A batch of beer will normally cost around $37, so you’ll be brewing any style of beer for about $14 per case of 24 bottles."

From start to finish, a batch of wine will take from four to six weeks.

"The sweeter, chardonnay type are 28 days from start to sipping ... premium wines are about two weeks longer than that," Cook said.

In contrast, a batch of home brewed beer takes a couple of weeks to cook, bottle and age.

Cook added that the less expensive beer kit is easily upgradable to a wine kit.

"If someone has a beer kit they can simply add onto it the one little piece of missing equipment for $39 and now it turns into a beer and wine set up and they can go back and forth," Cook said. "If someone has a wine making-kit they add a $22 bottle capper and it becomes capable of doing beer and wine."

But it’s not enough to just buy a beer or wine-making kit and start fermenting. Rick Foote, president of the Chicken City Ale Raisers and a national beer judge, said cleanliness is the most important part of the process.

"Eighty percent of being a successful brewer — more so than wine making because it’s more forgiving — is attention to cleanliness and sanitation," Foote said. "It’s more forgiving with wine because you have a more acidic raw material ... and you have higher alcohol factors involved.

"If you think it’s clean it may not be clean and it has to be cleaned before it can be sanitized."

While both Huthwaite and Cook said the beer brewing process is more complicated than making wine, overall each can be done with no prior experience.

"It really is very easy," Cook said. "They are all made the same way, so there is not degree of difficulty that is different."

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