By Beth N. Gray
SPRING HILL — Never a fruit-of-the-vine imbiber, Lori Stover two years ago ventured a sip of a friend's homemade cranberry dessert wine.
"Then I was hooked," she declared.
Now she has partnered with Pat Bassett to open Once Upon a Vine, a shop selling the goods that allow others to make wine at home. Or customers may carry through the process on site with coaching by Stover, a retired public school teacher, and Bassett, a retired sheriff's deputy. Bassett also is a recent wine devotee.
The duo completed a do-it-yourself course in vinification at a similar shop in Holiday. They had such fun, they said, and urged other friends to join them. But it was too far away.
"They asked, 'Why not do it here?'" Stover said.
Once Upon a Vine resulted and opened in August.
At its corner niche in Palm Tree Plaza, wannabe vintners can purchase all-in-a-box ingredients for fermenting a batch of fruit and components to yield about 30 750-millileter bottles of wine.
"Everything you need is in the kit," Stover said — fruit juice, yeast, clarifiers and flavor enhancers.
The kits don't contain preservative sulfites. Those tend to add a "bite" to commercial wines. Home-vinted wines lose the bite, leaving a smooth taste, she said.
The kits offer 30 types of juice — kiwi, pear, orange and chocolate raspberry tempt sweet-lovers. Grape favorites include Italian, Australian and French chardonnays, several cabernets, malbec, moscato, blends and more.
"I don't sell alcohol," Stover pointed out. "I sell juice. A kid can buy this."
A kit in hand, customers can make their wine in the shop or at home. The store sells at-home equipment, including buckets, bubblers, carboys, tubing, corks and a recipe book.
"I teach you to make it," said Stover, 62. Advice is free. Bassett, 71, helps with the "heavy lifting," leading novices through the mechanical steps. A professional consultant is on call.
Timid or perfectionist customers prefer on-site production, the owners have found. Professional equipment, including an automatic corking device, is on hand for each step in the process. A temperature-controlled darkroom, the equivalent of a wine cellar, provides for two necessary fermentation and clarifying periods of two to three weeks each before bottling. Many people aren't aware that wine-making is a process, Stover said, imagining they can stir up a few ingredients and sip the next day.
"It's more than grannie's recipes. Wine-making is a science and requires close attention to detail," states a University of Georgia Extension circular on home wine-making.
That process is covered in the package Stover and Bassett offer.
A kit of ingredients is priced from $90 for a dessert wine to $231 for some of the merlots and cabernet sauvignons. In-house processing — using all of the shop's equipment, step-by-step guidance and help, cellaring and bottling — costs $60. A case of 12 new bottles runs $17.
Stover has done the math. The components, in-house processing, plus bottling, corking and shrink-wrapping adds up to a customer's finished cost of $6.75 to $11.50 per bottle.
According to grapestompers.com, the savings in homemade over a purchased classic wine averages $168 to $208 for 30 bottles. And Floridians rank 13th among the states, consuming 12.4 liters of wine per person annually, reports the Beverage Information Group.
Once Upon a Vine's customers, Stover said, are "people who like to get together, husbands and wives, three friends, from (age) 23 to well in their 70s."
Contact Beth Gray at email@example.com.