A Small Business Success Story: Multi-generational family lodge and winery flourishes in Kachemak Bay.

Author:Jackinsky, McKibben

Put Bear Creek Winery and Lodging next to other wineries in the world--castle-neighboring wineries in Alsace, France; Tuscany wineries scattered from seashore to rolling countryside; the California wineries of Sonoma County--and this family-run Alaska business stands tall.

It has an award-winning product, can claim bragging rights for using Alaska fruits and berries, offers overnight accommodations designed with Alaskans in mind, has a picture-perfect setting near the shores of Kachemak Bay, has roots that sink deep into its surrounding community, and is a multigenerational enterprise.

Using the kitchen in the family's home a few miles east of Homer, Bill Fry began trying his hand at winemaking in the 1990s. Positive reactions from friends to whom Bill gave bottles of his wine as gifts for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions encouraged the budding vintner. It wasn't long before the kitchen became too small for his growing interest and Bill was forced to find a bigger space to set up shop; the garage. Blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb--just name it and Bill found a way to incorporate it in his wine-making experiments.

When a Kenai Peninsula lodge that catered to tourists in the summer and Alaskans in the winter chose to focus solely on its summer guests, Bill and his wife Dorothy found themselves without a favorite get-away. Aware of others who shared this same sense of loss, in 2003 the couple constructed a two-suite, year-round destination conveniently located next to their home.

The Frys' goal was to offer guests more than simply a hotel-type atmosphere. Dorothy paired locally made bedroom furniture with soft linens. She selected artwork to decorate the sitting areas, kitchenettes, and private baths. Once completed, the two suites were a perfect reflection of their names: Arctic and Cowboy. Arctic has a queen bed; Cowboy has a queen plus a sofa bed.

Reviews from lodge guests with whom Bill shared his wine opened the couple's eyes to an until-then unconsidered possibility, and in 2004 they turned hobby into business and launched the winery. That first year, Bear Creek Winery sold 600 gallons of wine.

During construction, Dorothy treated the building crews to a home-cooked lunch every day. The lunches have continued with Bill's mother Ruth now doing the cooking. The mid-day break in the action gives Bear Creek's ten year-round employees an opportunity to set aside bottling, packaging, housekeeping, and landscaping to enjoy a meal...

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