Residents learn finer points of wine making at Grow Masters in Gurnee
By Angela Sykora – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brissa Flores, of Beach Park, could have chosen to celebrate her 37th birthday at a favorite local restaurant or bar. Instead, she rounded up her girlfriends for a decidedly different activity — wine making at Grow Masters in Gurnee.
“We just wanted to try something different since we like to drink wine,” she said.
The business, which opened in 2012, specializes in equipment for growing hydroponic plants in addition to selling beer and wine-making equipment and supplies. They also host regular beer and wine making classes, “educational parties,” if you will.
“My husband bought me this for Christmas,” said Round Lake Beach resident Devy Lee, of the wine making class. “He likes beer, and I don’t drink beer. I have a wine cellar, so I thought I’d give this a try.”
With glass in hand (each class gets to sample what a previous class made), participants of the Jan. 19 class enjoyed a step-by-step tutorial in wine making from a kit, which Grow Masters sells from $60 to $180.
Each kit makes 30 bottles of wine, a bargain if you do the math, owner Bryan Stokes said. For the most expensive kit, that comes out to $6 a bottle. And it’s a bottle Stokes would put up against many a commercial brand.
“I’ve had wine salesmen come in here who don’t even like wine and tell me that’s a $30 bottle of wine,” he said.
Wine making kits include a large bag of juice and for certain wines, like cabernet, a package of grape skins, plus yeast and other ingredients.
Before getting started, you’ll also need plastic fermentation buckets, a siphon rod and hose, airlock, sanitizer, hydrometer, thermometer, measuring cups and bottles and corks.
“Once you buy the equipment, you just keep buying the kits or use your own fruit,” Stokes told the class. “Anything with a sugar source you can turn into alcohol. Sugar and yeast equals alcohol.”
Making beer is harder, Stokes said. “It’s more scientific.”
What makes a wine kit preferable to making your own juice is the convenience and the year-round accessibility of high quality grape juice and skins, Stokes said.
Wildwood resident Bob Pliskat, who attended the class with his wife Ann, had never taken a wine making class before but was interested in getting into the hobby at home.
“I’ve been wanting to do this forever,” he said.
Pliskat’s uncle, who died 20 years ago, used to make wine in Canada. Every year, relatives find a bottle or two hidden in a shed or nook and cranny at his home.
“We went up there last summer for a wedding and hit the mother load. We found a case and drank the whole thing,” said Pliskat, who plans on going to Michigan in July to pick up peaches, plums, pears and other fruits to make his own wine.
He said he wanted to take the Grow Masters class to help him get started, and to discuss equipment needs and the finer points of wine making with the expert staff.
“I’ve got recipes, but I’m scared if I don’t do it right, someone’s going to get sick. That makes me nervous!”
Pliskat and his fellow participants watched intently as Grow Masters employee Noah Whitney, who has a degree in molecular biology, demonstrated how to make wine using one of the store’s kits.
“What we’re making is must,” he told the class. “Must is unfermented wine before you put the yeast in. Wine makers make must, yeast makes wine.”
The participants were then split into two groups to give it a go. The wine ferments at the store for several months before participants are called to pick up their bottles.
Additional classes have been scheduled for the coming months. Wine-making classes will be held Feb. 18 at noon, March 16 at 7 p.m. and April 15 at noon. Beer making classes will be held Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m., March 18 at noon and April 13 at 6:30 p.m.