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Make Mine Wine - Posted Airdrie Life Winter 2010

Posted by Story by Anne Beauty Photo by Sergei Belski, October 1st, 2010 | 0 Comments

Wine making has come a long way from the plonk your grandpa made

This winter might be just the time to try a new indoor hobby; one which, with a little patience, can ultimately pay remarkable dividends and probably put you at the top of the A list of party hosts.

Home wine-making has come a long way since your parents' day and those interesting concoctions they used to foist upon their good - very, very good - friends. The qual­ity of wine-making kits has vastly improved over the years and the list of different types of wines to try - Chilean, Argentinean, Italian, French, Australian - is lengthy.

"That's the neat thing about this hobby ­you try different styles;' says Paul Sass, owner of The Home Vintner, which opened its Air­dne store in 2002.

For many, wine-making begins with a few bottles and develops into a lifelong pursuit, punctuated by ongoing education. "This curve of learning goes forever," Sass says.

And as the hobby evolves, more depth can be added by expanding the repertoire to include such specialties as ice wine, sherry, champagne and port.

"I personally keep a 25-litre port barrel on tap, because I'm excessive," Sass says.

While some go whole hog, incorporating wine cellars into their homes and travelling the world to discover new vintages, wine-making is a hobby that needn't be taken overly seriously.

"It's fun," he says. "Just be patient - that's a big thing."

For Sass, his love of fine wine encouraged him to leave a career as a commercial pilot and open The Home Vintner in Calgary in 1994. Since then, the store has expanded to include eight branches around Southern Alberta and he has shared his passion with thousands of budding oenophiles.

The key to success, Sass says, is to start with a good wine-making kit. What frustrates him is hearing horror stories from people whose wine-making attempts have resulted in undrinkable slop.

"There's a lot of bad information out there," he says. "My worry is that people throw their hands up and stop because of bad kits."

With the high quality of kits on the mar­ket these days, though, there's no need to be intimidated or put off by past experience.

"You don't ever [need to] be drinking bad wine," Sass says. "Life's too short."

Local wine-makers apparently agree. Since The Home Vintner opened its doors in Airdrie, more than 800 people have taken the store's free wine-making class.

"You get addicted to making wine;' says local resident Keith Sanders, who has made between 500 and 600 bottles since he first started a couple of years ago.

Along with the enjoyment of producing his own unique beverages, wine-making has provided Sanders with an outlet for creativity. He is currently working on a blueberry port, a challenging endeavour, but one well worth the effort.

Another plus, especially in a down economy, Sanders says, is that homemade wine is a lot less expensive than store-bought, running from a couple of dollars a bottle up to perhaps $5 or $6.

"It's very inexpensive to get going," he says, adding that he also recycles the bottles he uses.

Many of today's aspiring wine-makers are what Sass terms 'returnees' - people who tried wine-making in years past (unsuccessfully) and are now coming back in the fold. One such returnee is Airdrie's Dean Constantini, who made his own wine several years ago, but was unimpressed with the product.

"It was horrible: he says with a laugh.

Now, Constantini is back at it, with great results. What has made this wine-making en­terprise so successful, he says, has been start­ing with good kits and taking the time to learn and ask questions.

"Educate yourself," he says.

That education is readily available. The Home Vintner hosts regular events through­out the year - free wine- and beer-making classes, wine appreciation nights and even wine-food pairing events.

When it comes to producing your own wine at home, the hobby is one that can soon become a passion. Sass recalls a condo­minium complex in Calgary's Tuscany area, which began with a few wine-makers and now boasts nearly 40. The group has even built a wine room in the underground park­ing lot.

"There is a passion with wine that you don't get with other hobbies," Sass says.

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