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Spicer orchard owners expand business with wine venture

SPICER -- Making your own homemade wine without making a mess in your own home is one of the options at the Glacial Ridge Winemaking Connection, a new venture started this month by Ron and Kimberly Wothe.

The Wothes own and operate the Jimmy Appleseed Orchard and Glacial Ridge ice cream and sandwich shop near Spicer. Intrigued by the idea of eventually operating a full-fledged winery at the orchard, the Wothes have taken a step in that direction by expanding their business to include a home winemaking center.

Besides selling home winemaking equipment, like bottles, labels and corkers to people who are already experienced winemakers, the Wothes are offering classes to people who want to learn how to make their own merlot, chardonnay or one of more than 25 different varieties of wine.

Participants in the classes purchase wine kits, which include grape juice and grape juice concentrate and all the necessary additives and yeasts, to make a particular variety of wine. The cost of the concentrate varies from a low of $47 for a Riesling Vintners Reserve to $98.50 for a Merlot Selection French. The average cost of the wine concentration kit is $70. Each kit makes six gallons of wine, or 30 bottles.

Participants can then "rent" the Wothes' state-inspected facility and equipment for a $50 fee. The fee also includes guidance from Mike Johnson, who has 10 years of experience making wine, and daily monitoring of the wine's fermenting progress.

Add on the cost of the 30 bottles, at $1 each, and $5 for labels, and the average total cost is $155 for six gallons of wine, which brings the cost to $5 a bottle. The cost will vary depending on which wine kit and labels are selected. Participants can also bring used wine bottles to use again, but they must be thoroughly sanitized. Proper sanitation of all the equipment is crucial to the process, said Johnson.

Another option is to buy the concentrate and winemaking equipment and make the wine at home, for an approximate cost of $214.50 for 30 bottles of wine.

Class members will spend about an hour in the entire process, spread over three to four visits. Depending on the variety, the fermenting process takes four to eight weeks. After it's bottled, the wine should sit another two to three months before being consumed, but should be drunk within 24 months.

The process starts in large plastic buckets where the juice and concentrate is mixed with the yeast, bentonite, water purified by reverse osmosis and --with some varieties -- oak chips. Affer seven to 10 days, the liquid is transferred to 6-gallon carboys -- the glass jars in which a majority of the fermenting takes place.

By monitoring the gravity of the wine with a hydrometer, Johnson said he can determine if the fermenting process is proceeding properly. Fermentation is affected if the temperature is too hot or too cold. The ideal temperatures is 74 to 78 degrees.

With each new step in the fermenting process, the wine is transferred, or "racked," from one carboy to another. Each time the wine is racked, it gets cleaner as sediment remains on the bottom of the jar.

Ron Wothe said their customers have enjoyed coming to the orchard, putting on an apron and making wine. "And they never messed up their house," he said with a laugh.

Within the first two weeks of starting the new business, 14 batches of wine were brewing at the Glacial Ridge Winemaking Connection. About six new participants are being added each week, Wothe said. "There's been high interest and a lot of phone calls," he said.

Wothe said he encourages friends to come as a group, with each individual making a different type of wine. When the process is done, they each get to take 30 bottles of a variety of wines home with them.

Some of the wine that was started earlier this fall will be ready for the holidays. The Wothes' church intends to make its communion wine at the center, with the pastor blessing the ingredients before the process begins.

The quality and taste of the wine is very good, said Johnson. "This isn't your grandfather's wine," he said.

In a blind taste-test with a popular brand of wine, Kimberly Wothe said she couldn't tell the difference between a bottle of wine she and her husband had made and the much more expensive bottle of wine they had bought at the store.

Because the Wothes are selling only grape juice and concentrate and not selling wine, they do not need a liquor license, said Kimberly Wothe. What they do need, and have, is a state food handlers' license.

Kimberly Wothe said that there are four home winemaking centers currently licensed in Minnesota, including the Glacial Ridge Winemaking Connection.

It is located at the Jimmy Appleseed Orchard, 15455 Old Mill Road, Spicer, on state Highway 23. For more information about classes call (320) 796-5307

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750