Hidden gem has it all for the home brewer or vintner

By on August 26, 2014


John Rorer demonstrates the first step in making wine.

Tucked away in a little strip shopping center just north of Milepost 6 on the bypass is the only “urban winery” on the Outer Banks.

As an added bonus, it is also the only purveyor of do-it-yourself beer and wine-making equipment and materials this side of Hampton Roads.

OBX Winery and Hop ‘N Grapes OBX are two distinct operations combined into one very interesting store.

The new business opened early this year. John Rorer, Lorraine MacRae and Duncan MacRae are the owners.

John and Lorraine concentrate on making wine for retail sale on site and DIY winemaking, while MacRae focuses on the art of home brewing.

John is a retired business executive, and he and Lorraine have known each other for almost 50 years.

John tell us “We love making wine and Lorraine and I had been doing this as a hobby for a long time. Duncan loves to make beer.”

He continues, “I’m retired and we all thought we’d like to have a business to do, something that would keep us busy and something we thought both locals and visitors would enjoy.

“We knew there wasn’t a wine or beer-making shop on the Outer Banks and we all had to drive to Norfolk for supplies, so we thought we would start by ‘fixing’ that.”

They also discovered as an auxiliary use to selling wine, Kill Devil Hills zoning codes would allow them to make the wine they sell on the premises.

Thus, “urban winery” was added to the mix as well.

Rorer also heads up the local chapter of SCORE, an association of retired executives that offers free guidance to entrepreneurs on the process of starting and operating a successful business.

OBX Winery 3

The store also sells wine it makes on-site.

Rorer uses his real-life experience at OBX Winery to enhance his mentoring with SCORE’s clients.

We first discussed how to make wine at home. If you follow wine reviews and magazines the beverage seems complex and daunting.

Rorer sees it quite differently. “Making wine is one of the simplest processes you can imagine.” He explains how alcohol is produced as introduced yeasts ferment the sugar.

A grape right off the vine contains about 25 percent sugars. The key to wine making is to encourage fermentation to bring that level down and the alcohol level up.

Since we don’t have easy access to grapes, the OBX Winery sells wine “must,” essentially the concentrated grape juice from excellent vineyards in areas of the country where grapes flourish.

Many commercial wineries use the same process, and truth be told, it seems more appetizing and less messy than wine made from grapes crushed by bare feet.

You pick your must from virtually any of the famous varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and others.

The bottles the OBX Winery sells are made from the same musts that are sold to home winemakers.

From there, Rorer says one uses the same techniques any average cook employs — sanitation and the ability to follow simple instructions.

In fact, as the video segments demonstrate below, it’s easier than baking a cake.
The equipment used at OBX Winery is slightly more automated than the home kits, but the process is essentially the same.

We start out with a Merlot in the videos, but end up with a white wine that was ready to bottle on the day we visited.

OBX Winery Part 1 from Russell Lay on Vimeo.

Part 2:

OBX Winery 2 from Russell Lay on Vimeo.

Part 3:

OBW Winery Part 3 from Russell Lay on Vimeo.

In terms of investment, buying your first fermenting buckets, bottles, must, kits with yeast and other products required to make and monitor the fermenting process, your first trip will run you just under $200.

After that initial process, it will run you about $70 a month to produce 30 bottles of homemade wine.

Your first run works out to $6 a bottle and the price goes down after that since you only purchase the equipment once.

Even better, your wine will be ready to drink in about four weeks.

Lorraine explains it “takes a good afternoon” of work from start to clean up, and then after two weeks, some time to bottle and cork your wine.

Duncan MacRae explained that the beer process is only slightly more complex.

“You have to start out by cooking the ‘wort,’ which is basically water, liquid grains (the malt), and adding hops, which are the female flowers of the hop plant and can be added to the wort for bitterness and aroma.”

The wort is brought to a boil and is usually done in a 3-gallon batch on the stovetop. The next step is to bring the temperature of the wort down quickly, using cooling coil devices sold at the store.

OBX Winery
2606 N. Croatan Hwy., Kill Devil Hills
Tuesday through Friday; 11(ish) to 7(ish) and maybe later
Saturday: 11(ish) to 4(ish) and sometimes later
Sunday-sometimes noonish to ???
Call 757-641-2597 to confirm hours

The mixture is then transferred to a specialized bucket and then to something like a 5-gallon “carboy,” the large bottles used in office and home water coolers.

Add yeast to start fermentation, seal an airlock to the carboy up, set it in a dark corner of your house where a constant temperature can be maintained and wait two weeks.

At that point you can then transfer your almost-ready beer to bottles or a keg and place them in a fridge at about 55 degrees.

To this point in the process, you’re looking at about a three-hour time period. After another week, you’ll have the equivalent of 50 bottles of beer.

With a simple start-up kit, Duncan says, you’ll be making each bottle of beer for about $1, but the quality will be similar to beers that sell for $2 to $3 a bottle.

Similar to wine, you’re looking at about $130 for start-up equipment.

The store sells all the fermenting and bottling buckets you need, as well as the bottles, caps, capping devices and kits to make different flavors and types of beer.

The kits also come with comprehensive instructions and all the products and techniques required to sanitize your bottles and fermentation buckets.

Duncan notes that beer allows the home brewers creativity to be “limitless.”

Besides the different hops, he’s added other flavors to his beer such as Serrano peppers and yes, even baked beans!

And there’s more.

If you don’t want to make your own wine, OBX Winery features free tastings and then will design custom labels for you to take back to your friends and families for a perfect, personalized Outer Banks gift.

You could also personalize wines for weddings, anniversary parties, birthdays or company logos.

As a surprise, Rorer lifted a picture off my Facebook page and presented me with a bottle:

We’ve tasted all of their wines, both red and white, and the winery specializes in simple, non-complex wines that are perfect for sipping. They have made special wine blends for Chip’s Wine and Beer as well as bottles used in fundraisers for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

On the retail side, you’ll also find their wines at Tommy’s Gourmet Market & Wine Emporium and the Grandy Greenhouse & Farmer’s Market.

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