A More Potent Use for Local Berries



Kodiak winemakers Lisa and Steve Thomsen in their home-based winery. Brianna Gibbs photo

Brianna Gibbs/KMXT

It’s summertime in Kodiak and the berries are ripening. While many families are busy gathering their bounty for homemade jams, jellies or pies, one Kodiak couple has more potent plans for their summer harvest. KMXT’s Brianna Gibbs has more.

Enter Steve and Lisa Thomsen, the proprietors of Alaskan Wilderness Wines. The couple first got the idea to make wine from local berries and plants while living in Port Lions.

(Thomsen Wine 1: :18 sec "So we decided in Port … and stuff like that.")

Steve has a background in biology and chemistry and first learned to make wine while homesteading. Over the years he has used those skills to improve the process and make better tasting wine.

It is illegal to manufacture alcohol in Port Lions, so the couple had to get legislation passed to allow the community to vote on whether or not to allow it.

(Thomsen Wine 2: :47 sec "But I wasn’t so sure … picked up and moved here.")

Since both of them work full time jobs in addition to wine making, they call on community members to help them pick berries and offer per-pound pay for berries they receive. When they first started collecting berries from Kodiak community members 14 years ago, people were knocking on their door at all hours with tiny bags of berries to sell them. Now they only buy berries in sturdy, one gallon bags that are frozen. This summer they need to collect 2,000 pounds of berries and are currently only sitting on 600 pounds.

The business pays for itself, but they said they aren’t ready to make it their only source of income.

(Thomsen Wine 3: :34 sec "Because we do … we do everything at a time.")

This one bottle at a time process is time consuming. Steve said he puts in about 40 hours on the weekends and evenings toward winemaking, in addition to his full time job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. But he said he loves the process.

(Thomsen Wine 4: :44 sec "We bring in berries … in those containers.")

The Thomsens aren’t wine snobs. They say they’ve always loved wine, but aren’t pretentious about it. Despite their humble palette, the couple has won dozens of awards for their locally brewed wine.

(Thomsen Wine 5: :41 sec "Well we’ve won over … onto the right thing.")

Both agree that their best selling wine is probably the salmonberry. Personally, Steven likes the blueberry or black currant, and Lisa loves the raspberry. While they have many varieties of wine to choose from, they limit themselves to only making six different kinds at one time. They lost a couple of their main berry pickers this year, so are hopeful they can buy enough berries to ensure another vintage of Alaskan Wilderness Wines.


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