Alaska News

Tomato grower toys with the idea of a winery in Alaska

In 1974, the Anchorage Daily Times published a story with the headline "Grape Grower Goes Tomatoes."

Now, 40 years later, it might be time to reverse that headline.

Mike Mosesian, president of Bell's Nursery, a popular Anchorage greenhouse and gardening company, likes to joke that his "empire was built on tomatoes," though sometime soon that empire might have a shakeup thanks to Mosesian's recent forays into growing wine grapes.

While Bell's might be better known for its tomatoes, Mosesian has a long history of growing grapes in Alaska. For decades a large portion of the Specking Road nursery, also home to a cafe and gift shop, has been dedicated to raising table grapes. But in recent years, motivated by a desire to "prove a point," Mosesian has started growing wine grapes in an effort to include Alaska on the list of states that have wineries with locally grown grapes.

While Alaska is home to handful of small wineries, none grow their grapes, instead using berries or fruit, or mixing juices with imported wine concentrate. Mosesian hopes to change that.

For now, Mosesian's "winery" is small, about 30 gallons. He picked the grapes at the end of November and pressed them shortly after. Now a handful of 5-gallon buckets filled with wine sit fermenting in a small room in his basement amid model aircraft, his other hobby. But Mosesian hopes to turn this wine into more than a hobby.

He tests the wine constantly. A workbench in his basement, covered with pipettes and acid-base testing paper, looks more like a laboratory than a makeshift winery, appropriate given Mosesian also studied chemistry in college. He is keeping detailed logs in an effort to have a larger operation someday. He has no plans to sell the small batch of wine he has going now but isn't ruling it out long-term.


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"The cost is immaterial," he said. "I'm proving a point that if you can do it on a small scale, it can be feasible on a large scale."

Mosesian's desire for a winery runs deep. He grew up in California, a fourth-generation grape grower. His great-grandfather was one of a collective of farmers that started the Sun Maid raisin company. Mosesian followed in the family tradition, attending school at the University of California Davis to study viticulture, the science of growing grapes.

But grapes took a backseat to tomatoes after he moved to Alaska in 1972. In Anchorage he grew table grapes for fun (he never sold them but gave them out as gifts). But after watching the surge in local wineries in recent years, he decided to branch out and try to grow the wine grapes.

Mosesian said he doesn't have enough land in Anchorage to have the winery here but could see expanding to Wasilla or Point MacKenzie. He insists that beyond the price of land, it wouldn't be too expensive to build the greenhouses needed to house the grapes.

Jeff Lowenfels, longtime gardening columnist for Alaska Dispatch News and author of "Teaming with Microbes," thinks that with Mosesian at the helm, an all-Alaska winery isn't a far-fetched idea. He noted that the growing season in Alaska has extended over the last 100 years. It's only a matter of time before Alaska is hospitable for growing grapes.

"Mike is onto something as far as I'm concerned," Lowenfels said. "The only question is what variety to bring up. If anyone can figure it out, it's Mike."

Correction: This story originally stated that Alaska wineries use berries or other juices mixed with concentrate to produce wine. Wine is also produced in Alaska from only locally grown fruit and berries, with no imported wine concentrate.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.