Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fine wine by design — Winery puts connoisseurs in control of tasteful selections

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Building an inde- pendent business in Alaska can be a matter of finding an unoccupied niche and digging in for the long haul. The niche Rod Matson is looking to excavate is more like the Grand Canyon.

“Anyone who drinks alcohol in any way, shape or form. We’re trying to get everybody,” he said.

Matson, of Kenai, owns and operates Matson’s Winery and Supply on the Kenai Spur Highway by Beaver Loop Road. The shop is an outgrowth of a home brew supply store he started in the same location eight years ago. Three years ago he built a new building to accommodate his newest endeavor — wine-making — and draw in a new clientele.

“I shoot for everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to get the beer people — I have supplies for them — the wine people — you can make it at home or make it here, or you can come in and buy a bottle. Here in Alaska, you gotta do things differently, see who you’re selling to and who you want to sell to and fit into a little niche.”

His brewing supplies include equipment and ingredients for making beer or wine at home. His more recent addition is on-premises wine-making. Customers can buy a kit including the grape juice, yeast, extra flavorings and all the other ingredients needed for wine.

For an added fee, Matson supplies all the equipment and know-how necessary to mix, ferment, monitor, clarify and bottle the wine. Kits make about 23 bottles, which patrons can supply themselves or buy from Matson. The cost of each bottle ends up being about $7 to $9, depending on the kit that’s chosen.

Matson is also working toward federal licensing that will allow him to sell wine he’s made by the bottle. He’ll sell to tourists in the summer or anyone wanting just a bottle or two of original wine, without having to make it themselves or end up with cases of it.

For those who are do-it-yourselfers, Matson’s service includes some appealing perks, including storage, since would-be winemakers don’t have to sacrifice room at home for bulky carboys or fermentation buckets. Nor do they have to clean all that gear once the wine’s done its thing, or worry about how it’s doing every step of the way.

“We trusted him completely. He’s like the wine guru,” said Roxanne Marker. She and her husband, Ed, of Kenai, have made a Riesling and a merlot with Matson. “Any questions we had, he was happy to answer. And he was a lot of fun to do that with.”

The Markers were at Matson’s on Saturday to contemplate their next foray into the world of wine. This time, instead of picking from labels on boxes or descriptions in a catalog, the Markers got to sample what they may take home in bulk in the future.

Matson was having an open house. At a winery, that means open bottles — with a row of more than 20 wines made by customers uncorked and ready for tasting. Red, white, blush, dessert, dinner, light, robust, crisp, fruity, smooth — the options were as varied as the homemade labels customers had affixed to their bottles.

Roxanne Marker does rubber stamps. With Ed creating the text for the label on the computer, she fashioned a moose in the woods motif, complete with the inspiration for the name of the wine — “Moose Nugget Merlot.”

“You get the satisfaction of knowing you actually made this yourself,” Roxanne said. “And you can use it for gifts. It’s a little extra-special thing.”

The Markers got interested in wine through a friend in Colorado who was a wine distributor and gave them high-end bottles to sample. They saw an ad for Matson’s winemaking service and decided to give it a try. With two batches aging at home and plans to start a third soon, they’re happy to not have to buy from the store every time they want a bottle.

“It’s much better,” Roxanne said. “It’s crisper and cleaner tasting to us.”

“For comparable wines, it’s less expensive (than store-bought),” Ed said.

Bill and Lou Wirin, of Soldotna, were at the open house at the invitation of their friend, Merrill Sikorski, who had enticed them with his recent endeavor.

“We got a bottle from Merrill. He said I absolutely could not drink it until next winter,” Lou Wirin said.

Running down the list of options to sample set the Wirins on a path down memory lane, especially with the French, Italian and German offerings.

“We were stationed in Europe for five years and I learned to drink good wines, and I just enjoy them,” Lou said. “I’ve never gotten into making them before, but I may.”

A German ice wine — a super-sweet white dessert wine made from grapes that have endured a frost — sent Lou into a peal of German.

“If you have the accent, that’s 90 percent of it,” Matson said.

Just liking wine is the other requirement of being a connoisseur. Lou had that in spades.

“I’m just a wineaholic,” she said.

Kris Eriksen and Jeff Pfile, of Kenai, have pursued their wine interest around the world, touring vineyards in California, France and, soon, Italy. They were married at home on June 21, and friends from Oklahoma shipped up a few crates of personalized wine specially made for their wedding. Since they still have some of that at home, they were considering a port to round out their collection.

“Then we need to build a wine cellar because we don’t have any place to put more,” Eriksen said.

They flipped through one of Matson’s catalogs and were impressed by the options — Australian, New Zealand, South American, South African, European and American wines.

“They have a lot of good choices. Really, anything you’ve heard of,” Eriksen said.

The problem may be waiting the 45 days for the fermentation process, and the recommended four- to six-month aging period after bottling.

“The question is, can you take it home and not drink it?” Eriksen said.

“That remains to be seen,” Pfile said.

For Matson, his new licensing allows him to indulge in his interest – wine making, and helping anyone interested in wine drinking indulge in theirs.

“It’s a tough job,” Matson said. “My wife has no sympathy for me.”

“Not a drop,” Janet Matson chimed in.

Matson is planning another open house and winetasting this fall. For more information, call 283-3207.

No comments: