HOLIDAY — David and Denise Fialkosky say they have the almost perfect business.
They have a corner on the market. They promote mirth and romance. And drinking on the job is not only allowed, it's also virtually mandatory.
"Everybody just raves about it. What a fun job," said David Fialkosky, 48.
The Fialkoskys — who sometimes shorten their last name to Fial for convenience purposes — own Grape Expectations on Mile Stretch Drive. Their job? Helping you make wine.
They stock more than 70 kits that contain all the ingredients to duplicate wineries' output from around the globe. The particular grape, from an Italian pinot to an Australian shiraz, comes foil-bagged as a concentrate.
The Fialkoskys don't need a winery license because "I only sell grape juice," David Fialkosky said. (They have food and restaurant permits, though.)
Each kit yields 28 to 30 bottles. The customers mix their own batches, then let the liquid ferment for a month or so before returning to bottle it.
David Fialkosky tends to the brews, transferring wine from the primary fermentation buckets to big glass bottles where it keeps bubbling. He filters out the yeast and, if customers ask, adds clarifiers and stabilizers to make the wine translucent.
Customers are diverse
"It's just such a wonderful experience," said Kathy Gottardi on a recent Saturday, the day the most bottling is done at Grape Expectations. "We do it together."
Gottardi, 58, drove from Gulfport with husband George, 55, to complete a strawberry white merlot, a New Zealand merlot and a strawberry riesling, and to start a sangria batch. Customers come from all over because do-it-yourself wineries are fairly scattered: The distributors may refuse to sell kits to a new competitor who could cut into an existing store's turf.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m., the Gottardis siphoned, corked and shrink-wrapped seals onto about 90 bottles, which George wheeled to their car on a dolly. Married in October, the Gottardis first visited the store on Valentine's Day, when they bottled with friends for hours and "we could not take it all in," Kathy said.
The Fialkoskys try to facilitate without interfering.
"The first time somebody bottles, we try to coach them as much as possible," said Denise Fialkosky, 53, who also works full time as an insurance claims manager in Tampa. "But after a while, we let them have their personal time."
That might include parties of people bringing their own appetizers — or spreads — to enjoy as they bottle their concoctions, surrounded by quietly bubbling vats of other people's projects.
The Fialkoskys, who bought the business (formerly My Way Wines) in November 2007, are on hand for questions as they greet customers in their store. They can also field questions by phone from the customers.
Kit prices range from $68 for fruity wines to $200 for award-winning grape varieties that will never be available again.
David Fialkosky's dessert port from a kit, fortified with brandy and aged in Hungarian oak, won a Best of Show in the amateur category at the Florida State Fair in February. It's being considered in Napa Valley for the daddy of all amateur contests, the WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition, he said.
Grape Expectations offers the opportunity to make it for $170 (customers supply their own brandy).
He charges an additional $39.95 for customers to make the kits on premises, which include custom labels, corks, shrink wrapping and sanitized bottles. Customers can buy bottles or bring their own.
Near the end of a recent Saturday, 10 "friends" — all their customers are friends, David Fialkosky said — gathered with the owners around an upended barrel with various wines for tasting. It's almost as if wine bubbles are popping in the air, and the levity is rising.
"It's an event coming here," said Deb Morris, 50, of Trinity, whose last birthday was celebrated with a bottling party.
They raised their glasses to their lips and savored their creations.