Alaska's oldest winery relishes its successes

Kodiak business wins awards including gold at Indy International.

Kodiak Daily MirrorMarch 24, 2012 

Bottles of wine made with Alaska ingredient fill a rack at Alaskan Wilderness Wines in Kodiak. It is Alaska's first licensed winery.

JAMES BROOKS / ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA KODIAK DAILY MIRROR

KODIAK -- Alaska's oldest licensed winery isn't old enough to drink but it's just the right age to serve.

Alaskan Wilderness Wines, based on Shearwater Way in Kodiak, is turning 13 this year, and proprietors Steve and Lisa Thomsen couldn't be happier.

"Wine, it gets better with age," Steve said.

Homemade fruit wine has a long tradition in Alaska, and the state has had a licensing regulation for commercial wineries since at least 1993. But when the Thomsens began producing wine in 1999, they were the first in Alaska.

Since then, they have been at the forefront of legislative efforts to expand the business, promoting legislation to allow wine through the mail and to allow dry communities to open wineries.

Alaskan Wilderness has also picked up more than a few national prizes. The most notable came in 2010 when the company won a gold medal at the Indy International Wine Competition for its wild blueberry wine. The competition is the largest in the United States, and "coming out with a gold there is a really big deal," Steve said.

Alaskan Wilderness remains the only winery in the state to have won an award from the Indy competition.

There are seven other licensed wineries or meaderies in the state: two in Homer, three in Anchorage, and one each in Kenai and Wasilla. Though some have grown bigger than Alaskan Wilderness Wines, the Thomsens are pleased with their success.

"It's just been one of my dreams," Steve said.

Steve grew up in Port Lions, and Lisa was born and raised there. They intended to use the winery as a home-owned business they could operate in Port Lions, but they ran into opposition from residents.

They moved to Kodiak and after a few months of hard work threw open their doors.

Their wines are made with local ingredients -- salmonberries, blueberries, fireweed and other Alaska-grown products. It takes about 18 months to complete a batch, Steve said.

Alaskan Wilderness sells wine to 16 states through the Internet. Steve said he works about 10 hours per week in the winery, balancing it with part-time jobs that pay the bills. The winery is a self-supporting business, but Steve said he'd like to expand once he retires.

"I've been thinking about doing it full-time," he said.

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