Barb Zant started working at Home Brew Factory & Wine Boutique on Dogwood Street almost 20 years ago.
She didn’t know anything about wine – other than that she loved it. Her experience, at the time, with “homemade wine,” like that of many others, wasn’t great. But she found out she loved the product they were producing at the shop and loved the people and process of making it so much that she bought the entire operation when it came up for sale eight years into her tenure there.
And 11 years later, she’s never been happier with that decision.
“It was a no brainer,” she says with a laugh. “I purchased it because I loved the product, and the company that makes the wine kits, Winexpert, are the leaders in the industry and they treat their people really well.” And apparently, Campbell River is a wine town. Zant says she has never been busier.
So what does the process entail? Someone just walks in and says, “Make me wine, please,” and then come back when it’s ready?
Well, not exactly, Zant says. But it’s not that complicated – for the customer, at least.
“People just come into the store and we talk about what they need,” Zant says simply.
But what if they don’t actually know what they need?
“Maybe they just know they had a bottle somewhere that they really liked, and they want something like that,” Zant says. “So we have to start by figuring out what they liked about it, for example. Are you a dry white person? Are you a blush/rosé kind of person? Do you like light, medium-bodied or heavy reds? That’s what we have to figure out first.”
And she’s good at it.
“Almost 100 per cent of the time, I end up helping them pick the perfect wine,” she says with a smile. “People are never disappointed. In 19 years I’ve replaced two kits, and both times it was because something was wrong with the kit, not because the recommendation was off.”
Once they settle on an option together, Zant says, the process of making the wine and getting it home to their wine rack is actually super simple. At least it is from the customer’s perspective. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. You kind of leave everything up to them.
Well, not everything. Legally, Zant says, they are not allowed to “make” the wine, so the customer has to add the yeast to the kit to start the fermentation process, which takes about eight days. At that point, staff checks the wine’s specific gravity – a measure of residual sugar left behind after fermentation.
When the specific gravity of the wine reaches the proper number on the hydrometer, the wine is transferred to another container (called a carboy) for the fermentation process to finish before her staff stabilizes the wine.
“People are never disappointed.”
This involves the addition of potassium sorbate to stop the yeast from fermenting and potassium metabisulphite to keep the colour and flavour of the wine while removing excess oxygen. Then a gelatine is added to make any residual impurities fall to the bottom of the wine so they don’t end up in the bottle.
At that point, the wine can move to the back room to be filtered and aged for four to eight weeks, depending on the kit that was chosen.
“Four-week kits are made from concentrate, six-week kits are made from juice and eight-week kits are made from juice and grape skins,” Zant explains, “and they produce very different results. None are necessarily better or worse than others, though, because good wine is just a matter of personal taste.”
Also in that back room are sinks for customers to wash their bottles – also available in-store for those who don’t have any – bottling machines, and a genuine Italian bottle corker.
Once the wine is ready to go home, the customer is called to make an appointment, comes in with their bottles, fills them, corks them, adds labels and shrink-wrapped tops (if they want to make the bottles fancy) and heads home with their wine.
At that point, the wine is done and ready to consume. Well, technically it is, anyway. Wine changes as it rests, and most wines need to be aged before they have matured into what they “should” taste like. But the amount of aging a wine requires, like the variety being chosen, is another matter of personal preference, Zant says.
“I recommend that people don’t touch it for two weeks. Let it calm down and rest and have your first bottle after a couple of months, but some people like to drink their wine right away because they like young wine and some people say their wine wasn’t any good until it aged for a couple of years.”
But most people, Zant says, “trunk-age” their wine. “They age it for as long as it takes them to get it home. I would say, maybe five per cent of people age their wine for the time it’s supposed to be aged for.” It’s not wrong to do that…but they would probably find their wine ends up being better if they did, Zant says.
So is Campbell River more of a red or a white town? “I definitely make a lot more red in this town than I do white,” Zant says. “We’re making a lot of Malbecs these days. Argentinian and Chilean full-bodied stuff is really popular right now. “And I totally get that,” she says with yet another laugh. She’s all about the heavy-bodied reds, herself. She says she only has white in the fridge for when it’s too hot out to drink red.
But whatever wine you like, it’s probably a good idea to get it started soon if you want it to mature in time for Christmas. “They actually should have started it in January,” Zant smiles. “But it’ll still be good for the holidays if they start it now.”