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Meet Gisela Claassen of Curds and Wine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gisela Claassen.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Gisela. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started making wine as a hobby in 2007; all of my friends were making beer, but I like wine better so investigated how to go about making wine. I thought I would have to drive around Temecula to try to purchase grapes, but discovered wine kits – stabilized concentrated juice with all of the other needed ingredients. With wine kits, you can make wine any time of year, and almost any varietal from anywhere in the world. My first kit was decent enough, so I made several more.

The next year a friend said he knew someone that could get us some grapes, I said I’d love to learn to make wine from grapes. On the way to pick up a half ton of Merlot, I asked the guy how long he had been making wine. He said, “I’ve never made wine, they said you know how to make wine.” Not from grapes! So we all stumbled through our first batch with the help of Chris Van Alyea (now the owner of Solterra) and Ray Schnorr (now the owner of Highland Valley Vineyards). It was also decent.

I was working in biotech when I started making wine – I have a Ph.D. in Cell Biology, I was a bench scientist doing drug discovery cancer research. Two companies I was working for closed within a year of each other, and it was getting frustrating not being able to complete projects, and there was nowhere in town to get winemaking supplies, so I formed the idea for Curds and Wine. After the second company closed and I was laid off again, I decided to move forward with the plan and opened Curds and Wine in November 2010.

I initially was going to focus on winemaking and offering winemaking on site (called a U-Vint). One evening a friend called me and asked if I had any rennet. I didn’t know what that was and asked what it was for. “No one in town sells cheese supplies.” I thought to myself, cheese goes with wine … so when I was unemployed I taught myself to make cheese and added the cheesemaking supplies to the store concept, then the name just came to me after that.

I currently have 3 amazing employees and have taught people to make cheese that has gone on to sell it professionally as well as taught people to make wine that now sells award-winning wine in town. Curds and Wine was recently awarded “U-Vint of the Year” at the Winemaker Magazine conference, and I personally was awarded “Winemaker of the Year” at the San Diego County Fair Homemade Wine Awards.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Owning a homebrew shop is never a business that will make you rich. But, so far I have taken a very conservative approach and we have done well. I have been very lucky to have some great people working with me at the shop, without them, it would have been much more of a struggle.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Curds and Wine – what should we know?
Curds and Wine is a home winemaking and cheesemaking supply shop. People can make wine at the shop any time of year using wine kits, and once a year we have a small group that makes wine from fresh grapes delivered to the shop. I teach seminars on how to make wine from grapes as well as cheese making classes. We also sell all of the needed winemaking and cheesemaking supplies.

I am most proud of how many people we have made happy through winemaking and cheesemaking. We have many repeat customers, most people come back to make more wine with us over many years. We try to help with any winemaking or cheesemaking questions. I believe it is our experience plus our passion for our crafts that make Curds and Wine special.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Knowledge and experience. All of my employees take both the cheesemaking and winemaking from fresh grapes seminars as well as make a wine on site with a kit when they start. We strive to be as helpful as possible for any customer with a question or problem.

Pricing:

  • Winemaking on site: cost of the wine kit(s) – average $100 – $120 to yield 28-30 bottles of wine plus a vintning fee of $100 if starting one kit, additional $50 for a second kit started at the same time, $25 for a third kit at the same time (limit 3 per session)
  • Cheesemaking Fundamentals Classes $75/person
  • Basic Winemaking from Fresh Grapes Seminars $75/person

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Paul Savage Photography

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