Wine lovers make their own reds and whites at The Vintners Club in Bluffton

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comDecember 12, 2012 

The front of Brent McCormick's new Bluffton business, The Vintners Club, seems an unlikely place from which to change the way area wine-lovers feel about their favorite reds and whites.

Tucked away in Village Commons off Bluffton Road, the store first appears to be a carefully curated retail space. Corks, artisan jams and Christmas ornaments fashioned from large pine cones sit for sale.

But behind this quaint shop lies a large, brightly lit and climate-controlled room that bears a closer resemblance to a science lab than a boutique.

Row after row of large, six-gallon glass jugs, called "carboys" in homebrewing and winemaking parlance, line metal shelves, the pale yellow and dark red liquid within bubbling away as it ferments.

This, McCormick says, is the future of wine in Beaufort County.

"You go to these wine tastings and you taste wine and you taste wine," McCormick said. "Eventually, it becomes a question of, 'What's next?' This is what's next. Nothing like this is being done anywhere."

Inside The Vintners Club, which opened its doors Nov. 2, McCormick is offering area wine enthusiasts a chance to make batches of their own, private label wine.

Members select the grapes from which their wines will be made, monitor the fermentation process and even bottle the wine in a mini-bottling facility that McCormick built in the rear of his store.

The bottles are then plastered with custom labels members design themselves. The club is charging clients $500 for 30 bottles of their own wine.

Made from concentrated grapes, each bottle takes an average of four to six weeks to produce, a timeframe that often surprises many wine aficionados.

Opening the business itself took considerably longer than that for McCormick and his wife, Jane, who owned a vineyard and winery in their native New Jersey for more than a decade.

For about 15 months, McCormick and his lawyers haggled with state regulators over licensing, an arduous process that forced the couple to seek opinions from the S.C. Attorney General's Office before The Vintners Club was finally allowed to open.

But the work is far from over.

Home winemaking, as is the case with homebrewing, requires attention to detail and meticulous cleaning of the glass jugs and other equipment used in the fermenting process.

A failure to do so could result in the contamination of the still-fermenting grape juice with wild yeast or other micro-organisms that can spoil the wine by causing off-odors or flavors, according to food science researchers at Washington State University.

Ever conscious of this risk, the McCormicks work to keep their equipment clean and their customers' wines tasting great.

"I like things really clean," McCormick said. "There's a bin of clean towels back there and I go through those things like crazy."

"And I wash them on my days off," Jane McCormick chimes in from around the corner.

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