From Iowa to Alaska...

My Wine-making Journey

I have been making home brewed beer since 1975 and started making hard apple cider and berry wines in 1980. I ran a homebrew and wine-making supply shop called "Wine World" in Iowa for several years in the mid 80's. I was lucky enough to meet many wine-makers and one in particular introduced me to the techniques for making good quality wine at home. He showed me where to get good California wine grapes and quality equipment.

In 1987 I shared the purchase of 27 Gals. of fresh frozen California Sauvignon Blanc juice from Brehm Vineyards in California. After primary fermentation using Wyeast Labs #3028 yeast we split the volume for each of us to finish. I followed the first racking with a Malolactic fermentation then additional racking, fining, and aging 1 year in the bottle. I was anxious to see what other wine makers thought so I entered my wine in the Iowa State Fair amateur wine competition. My first attempt at making real grape wine at home ended up taking Best of Show honors out of more than 400 total entries. Making good wine at home is all about good grapes and following proper technique. I continued entering many of my country fruit wines and ciders as well.

Everybody that likes wine will benefit by learning basic wine history and just how wine is made - and who knows, it just might turn into an enjoyable hobby.

You can still buy good California wine grapes from Brehm Vineyards. Red grapes are crushed and the must is frozen. White grapes are crushed and pressed and only the juice is frozen. They are sold in 5.5 Gal. buckets and can be shipped by air freight. Shipping to Alaska can be expensive, but I would like to find other wine-makers that might be interested in sharing the cost.

After moving to Alaska in 1991 I was very excited to see all of the berries that grow very well up here. Growing my own berries in Alaska was a no-brainer. I continued with my hobby making country wines from produce that I bought. Since we can't grow wine grapes in Alaska, my goal is to make wine out of the fruits and berries that I grow myself.

I did plant a raspberry bed in my front yard in Anchorage and it was very productive as you can see.

When I moved out to Wasilla I brought some raspberry plants along and they are doing well out in my new garden. I have since added rhubarb, black currents, gooseberries, blackberries, and a strawberry bed. It is taking a few seasons for the berries to mature and become productive.

My usual country wine recipes make five gallons and require about 15 lbs of berries or fruit. I pick the berries as they ripen and wash and freeze them for later use. I have about 12 lbs of frozen raspberries and 8 lbs of frozen gooseberries saved so far. During my first summer in Wasilla I decided to visit Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm. They allow the public to pick their own produce. I came home with 25 lbs of rhubarb and set about producing my first vintage Chateau Listeur country wine...