Make your own vino at Steveston WineMakers

As fall approaches and the weather turns chillier, there's nothing better than having a nice full-bodied merlot cabernet sauvignon to warm you up with dinner.

Making that a habit could get pricey, unless you're buying from Steveston WineMakers where the most expensive bottle is less than $8. The caveat? You have to make it yourself, and buy 30 bottles at a time.

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Located right inside the village at 3851 Moncton St., the store doesn't draw a lot of attention to itself despite being open for the last 13 years. Walking inside, however, you are greeted with a space that is part retail and part science lab.

Most days you will find owner Sandi Wosk hovering near the front surrounded by vino paraphernalia like racks, books and wine-making kits, or in the back where there are huge jars filled with colourful liquids as far as the eye can see. She runs what is referred to as a U-Vin, the wine equivalent of a U-Brew, and says she gets the entire gamut of patrons.

"We get people who absolutely are very involved in wine and people who rather than paying $9 and up for a bottle of wine commercially coming in," said Wosk. "They prefer to have wine made. As I was saying, they start at $3.33 a bottle and the most expensive is $7.99."

Customers select from a series of pre-assembled kits, that yield 30 750-millilitre bottles of standard reds and whites as well as rosés, ice wines, sherries, ports and dessert wines, ranging in price from a $99 "Steveston house" blend to a $215 Austrian Zwigelt.

They open the box and start the process right in the store. And while Wosk and her staff of six can provide assistance, their U-Vin licence stipulates that the customer must do a portion of the work themselves.

The initial process is quite simple and only takes a few minutes. Kits include juice, grapes and a fining agent called bentonite that is emptied into a container and mixed, along with bits of oak for flavour if it is a fancier kit. Then, the magic ingredient that makes it all happen is added last.

"They must put, by law, the package of yeast into the primary fermenter - that's a food-grade bucket. Depending on the quality of the kit they use, it can be four weeks, five weeks, six weeks or eight weeks. We take over from there and do all the processing. It's a lot of work," said Wosk.

After the fermentation has taken place, usually lasting around 11 to 12 days, the wine is then racked. That means liquid is siphoned from the large bucket into big clear glass containers - called carbois - that separates the wine from leftover leaves and chunks of yeast that have settled down to the bottom.

The final components are mixed in and then when everything is ready, a call is made to the customer to come in and package their product. Bottles are not included and are about 90 cents each for first timers, whereas seasoned veterans can bring in used bottles for sterilization and reuse. After filling, they are put through a corking machine, labelled and are ready to go.

Working in the industry since 1997 and married to a commercial wine store owner, Wosk said she has seen a different attitude develop in the way people view U-Vins.

"Thirteen years ago it was a way to get cheap wine, but that's not the case anymore. Our customers are absolutely educated.

They know what a viognier is, which is a grape that was never know before the U-Vin industry brought it in."

Wosk added the large foodie population in Steveston has certainly helped the cause.

For more information on Steveston WineMakers and the different kits they offer, visit their website at www.stevestonwinemakers.com or call 604-275-WINE (9463).

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