PHOTOS: Tony Desantis
With a bit of chemistry and a dash of artistry, you can make your own wine with guidance from Joe Carvalho, owner of Corkscrew Winery in The Villages. It’s the best wine education you can get without going to sommelier school.
A few years ago, my husband and I went in search of a well-known winery in Italy. The drive through the countryside turned out to be the best part of the day as we had trouble finding this highly recommended winery and it was closed when we arrived. We swallowed our disappointment as we returned to our host’s home, where he served us the most incredible red wine we’d ever tasted. “Is this from the nearby winery?” we asked almost in unison. It was not . . . our host had made it from grapes growing in his yard.
Although the wine was great, we were not inspired to rush home and make our own. We didn’t realize winemaking is a growing pastime with more than 100,000 people making 7.5 million gallons of homemade wine in 2012, according to WineMaker Magazine.
Joe Carvalho believes those figures have increased over the past two years. He has seen firsthand the popularity of winemaking at his Corkscrew Winery in downtown Ocala since he and his wife, Kelli, opened the business in 2012. That popularity prompted him to open a second location in Spanish Springs in The Villages where people can make and bottle their own wines in a facility that looks much like a rustic Italian winery.
“We had so many people coming from The Villages to our Ocala location that we decided to open one here,” says Carvalho. “Our purpose is to educate people about craft wine and beer. We don’t want anyone to feel intimidated when it comes to making their own.”
Customers choose the types of grapes and the “recipe” they want to make. Corkscrew Winery supplies all the ingredients, including juices and/or grapes imported from all over the world. Carvalho and his staff walk customers through the winemaking process, and then everyone steps back to let the yeast work its magic in six-gallon glass vessels called “carboys.” Customers return four-to-six weeks later for a private bottling session. Each batch yields about 28 to 30 bottles of wine so customers often come with friends to split costs. Prices range from $250 to $400 per batch depending on the types of wine.
George Mathis, vice president at Raymond James Financial in The Villages, is so much of a Corkscrew Winery fan that he has hosted client events and taken friends for winemaking parties at both locations.
“I did this in Italy, which was phenomenal, so seeing Carvalho bring this idea here is unbelievable,” says Mathis. “He and his staff do a great job explaining the process and the whole educational aspect. I got tons of positive feedback from my clients and friends who had a really good time and each took home a bottle of wine they made.”
Originally from Toronto, Carvalho was a volunteer in Belize when he initially learned to make wine with a friend more than 15 years ago. After marrying Ocala native Kelli McBride, he became a custom carpenter for high-end homes by day and a serious winemaking hobbyist at night. When he made wine for a friend’s wedding, several guests encouraged him to try winemaking as a business.
Many customers made bottles for their weddings or special events with customized labels Corkscrew Winery helped design.
“People will tell me they were married in a particular winemaking region and ask if I can get grapes from there,” says Carvalho. “Usually I can, and they make the bottles for their anniversaries.”
Corkscrew Winery also serves wines on tap that Carvalho makes. He warns you that most are young — less than two years old.
He recommends storing some bottles for a year or longer, depending on the type of wine.
“When customers bring a bottle back a year later for me to taste, it’s even better than some I have on tap,” he says. “People ask me if I’m embarrassed by that and I say, ‘no, that’s the way it should be.’”
In September, Mathis and his groups made a Chilean merlot and a French-style wine that he’s cellaring for awhile.
“I had a client or two who drank their French-style wines and said they were already good,” says Mathis, who plans to host a future event to make craft beers at Corkscrew Winery.
Carvalho anticipated the batches of wine he made to serve at the new location would last years, but within months they were gone.
“It was kind of risky to jump into this, but it’s really taken off,” he says with a smile. “Kelli and I are excited to come to work every day.”