Alaska Denali Winery – Taste, Buy or Make Your Own
By Sue Todd
Glacier City Gazette
Several years ago, a couple of patrons at a winery off Dowling were overheard saying, “We should buy this place.” Assuming it had been a private conversation, they were quite surprised to get a call from the owner letting them know she was ready to sell and that she heard they were interested.
Cathy and Mike Bessent have been owners of Alaska Denali Winery for seven years. Recently, I sat down with Cathy and asked what possessed them to buy the place. Her immediate response was, “My husband would say stupidity.”
There is a lot of red tape involved in owning a winery in Anchorage, and the Bessents have not been exempt. However, with perseverance, time, and strict adherence to policy, the Bessents have emerged on the other end and now run a lovely establishment that has since moved from Dowling to Industry Way in South Anchorage.
Step into the sampling room, and you will find several tables with seating for parties of six to eight people. Tastefully decorated, the room is warm and inviting. Outside, additional seating is provided on the patio. If conditions are right, the fire pit will be lit.
So, why would you stop in? Well, a winery in Alaska is a bit of a surprise, and there are so many options available here for the wine aficionado. Perhaps you just want to sample the wine. For $20, you can enjoy a flight of six different varieties, usually two whites, two reds, and two ports. The choices are vast, and narrowing them down could be your biggest challenge.
Cathy reported that the quality of the wine seems to be the biggest surprise for the first-time visitor, and many a wine snob has been converted to a believer in their establishment. Should you find a wine or wines you simply must have at home, many are available for retail purchase in both 375ml and 750ml bottles.
This winery can even take you one step further. You can try your hand at making your own wine. Book a reservation and you can create your own batch. In fact, why not make it a party. The winery can accommodate groups of 8-12 people. When the process is complete, a batch of wine will yield 24-26 bottles. Denali offers many kit options- premium wines, an international series, a seasonal Limited Edition series, an alternative wine-based beverage and special ports.
Depending on the wine you choose, a full batch will cost from $270 for the Island Mist to $350 for a Selection International with Grape Skins. Ports range from $299 to $369 per batch. Broken down to per bottle cost, you are looking at about $10 to $13.50 per bottle. If you have priced fine wine, you know this is a bargain.
So, what is the process for making a batch of wine? Of the approximately 70 options, you will select the wine you wish to make. Your kit contains everything you need to make your wine – juice, yeast, a flavor pack, wood (think oaky Chardonnay) and dextrose, if required. All the equipment is available on site and has been pre-sanitized, which is key when making wine.
The first step is to mix the kit. Staff then documents it in their computer system to make sure your wine is tracked and you get your specific batch in the end. An easy-to-understand, three-shelf system is used in the fermentation process. Your wine goes to the fermentation room, where it is transferred to a bucket or a carboy, depending on the wine type. At this point, your work is done for the next ten weeks, but the winery continues the process.
The fermentation room is kept at a consistent 75 degrees, as this is the ideal temperature for the yeasts. Your carboy is first placed on the top of three shelves for about 15 days. When testing shows the fermentation is complete, your carboy is moved to the second shelf, where it receives second stage treatment. This is where clarification begins and sediment drops out of the wine. When this step is complete, your carboy will contain clear wine with a layer of residue at the bottom.
Your wine is then siphoned into another carboy and moved to the third shelf for three weeks of rest. At the end of three weeks, it is filtered three times through one-micron filters.
In the final step, your filtered wine is moved to the floor. At this point, the winery calls you to schedule the bottling, corking, and capping. Let’s just say that’s when the party happens. Some folks have specialty labels prepared for this step. Perhaps the wine was made for a special corporate event and the labels have the company logo. Or the wine is to be served at a wedding, and the label sports a picture of the couple.
Regardless of the reason, bottling is the fun part. New friendships have been forged during this process. Folks who meet for the first time while making wine have been known to come back together as one party the next time.
Though “stupidity” got the Bessents into the wine-making business, watching people connect, seeing the myth about home-made wine disappear, making people happy, and observing the creativity all keep them motivated.
In the sampling room, a shelf of etched glasses lines the wall. They belong to loyal patrons, and having your own etched glass is a badge of honor. This community of patrons is what brings the owners joy.
The Bessents report that they are proud of the patrons they draw. The winery is a stop for tour buses, young people willing to be introduced to wine as well as many familiar faces. The have found their patrons to be conscientious about drinking and driving. Mike says the only unhappy faces he sees are the designated drivers, so perhaps Uber or Lyft are better choices.
If you have not had a peek inside this establishment and a taste of their offerings, give it a try. Enjoy a sample in the main room or take your pour out to the patio, with its lovely fire pit. No food is served, but you are welcome to bring your own pizza, meat and cheese tray, sandwiches, fried chicken or anything else.
Come check out this hidden treasure on the south side of Anchorage. By the way….the front door is in the back!
Hours: 12-8 p.m Tue.-Sat.
11901 Industry Way, Building A, #1, Anchorage, AK 99515
firstname.lastname@example.orgMust be over 21 (no exceptions) after 3 p.m.