Kathy Ondrus’ eyes light up when she talks about the wines she has made at home, from sweet Muscats to crisp Cabernets and fruity Sauvignon Blancs.
But nearly 10 years ago, Ondrus couldn’t imagine enjoying wine, much less having a deep passion for making it.
“My husband and I took a trip to Napa (California), and one winery in particular took the time to educate me on wine. I realized that I liked wine, I just didn’t know anything about it,” Ondrus said.
The trip sparked an avid home winemaking hobby that has kept Ondrus’ family and friends in steady supply of wine since then. While friends told her that her creations tasted great, she wanted to find out if they were being honest or just nice — so she started entering competitions.
In May, Ondrus was named Winemaker of the Year and awarded 2018 Grand Champion Wine at an international competition for hobbyists sponsored by WineMaker Magazine.
“I was in disbelief and shock,” Ondrus said. “It’s the wildest feeling I think I’ve ever had, because it’s something every amateur winemaker dreams of doing, but to win the top two (awards) is crazy. I definitely screamed.”
Competing against 2,300 participants, Ondrus won seven gold medals, two silver medals and a bronze medal at the competition. Her Muscat Canelli won the top honor, and her Brianna, Vognole, La Crecent, Muscat Icewine and Gewurztraminer wines were also recognized.
Ondrus, who lives in Fruita, works as a nurse and attends the Western Colorado Community College viticulture and enology program. She wants to start her own winery.
“I like that you can create something that people take a sip of and go, ‘Holy cow, this is really good!’ ” Ondrus said. “You can tailor it and you can put your art into your wine.”
WCCC program director Jenne Baldwin-Eaton said she hopes that Ondrus’ success helps get the word out about the viticulture and enology program in Grand Junction.
“These students have so much energy and enthusiasm, and because we’re on a smaller scale we can do so much trial and error, and there’s so much learning,” she said. “These students can really learn from what we did in the 1990s and 2000s and start at a much higher level.”
Ondrus said she still encounters people who are skeptical of trying wine she’s made at home, often because they’ve had bad past experiences.
“People hear that you make wine and they think ‘Yuck, homemade wine, I’ve had that before,’ ” Ondrus said. “It’s a shock to people that you can make really good homemade wine — damn good wine.”