Fifteen years ago, Bill and Dorothy Fry were piecing together a back-up plan for their lives. The result of that forward thinking and hard work, Bear Creek Winery and Lodging, is an award-winning, multi-generational enterprise. In March, the Frys officially handed the business over to their daughter and son-in-law, Jasmine and Louis Maurer.
“It’s very much a family business. We’re a team and are ready for the next generation to put their spin on things. We’re the founders, but no longer the owners,” said Dorothy of her and her husband’s new role.
She and Bill will continue to travel to various shows and events as the winery’s representatives, something not so easy for the Maurers to do with their two young children, Maggie, 4, and Aurora, 6 months.
“The family and small-business aspect was the big draw for me,” Louis Maurer said. “That it happened to be a winery, that’s even better. “
The first stage of the family enterprise began in 2003, with the construction of lodging designed with Alaskans in mind.
“Bill was working on the North Slope and wanted to get off the Slope and we just thought this would be a good source of income,” Dorothy Fry said. “We also wanted to create a place for Alaskans who find it hard to get away somewhere for a night or two.”
The two luxuriously appointed suites — named the Arctic and the Cowboy to match their furnishings — create a comfortable, quiet and relaxing destination complete with views of Kachemak Bay and the snow-covered Kenai Mountains in the distance, and the soothing sounds of a small stream emptying into a koi pond just outside the door.
As their guest list grew, so did an interest in Bill’s hobby: winemaking. For years, gifts of Bill’s wine for get-togethers and holidays had been well received. When visitors were invited to sample it and also expressed an interest, the Frys’ plan for the future expanded.
“If you’d asked me 15 years ago if I was going to own a winery, I’d have said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But when people we didn’t know said they loved my wine, I thought, ‘Oh, maybe we could sell this stuff,’” Bill Fry said. In 2004, the winery opened its doors and during the first year of business sold 600 gallons of wine.
“Bill made wine out of anything he could get his hands on,” Dorothy Fry said. “People knew that and started bringing us berries.”
Three years later, their back-up plan became their new reality.
“I finally pushed all the chips across the table and asked my (North Slope) supervisor not to forget me,” Bill Fry said. “And it’s worked out.”
For a time, limiting ingredients to only Alaska-grown fruit and berries proved a challenge, and the Frys developed alternatives. That obstacle has since been overcome. The winery now produces two brands and sells roughly 100,000 bottles of wine a year. The original Bear Creek brand offers nine wines on the tasting list year-round and five seasonal wines. The Glacier Bear brand offers five different wines made entirely from Alaska-grown berries and fruit. Each brand has been honored with numerous awards.
Eight full-time employees keep the winery in production, orders shipped around the state and beyond, the tasting room staffed, the suites guest-ready, and the grounds maintained.
Landscaping has incorporated a trail through the surrounding woods for guests to enjoy. Golden raspberries, rhubarb, currents and gooseberries are grown on site to be turned into wine. A covered pavilion has been the chosen spot for more than one wedding. And in December, the Garden of Lights display of holiday lighting and music, hot chocolate, and a bonfire draws both young and old.
The Frys and Bear Creek Winery and Lodging also are known for their community support. In 2015, when Hospice of Homer celebrated 30 years of service, it awarded its first Compassion in Action Award to the Frys.
“Dorothy and Bill have big over-flowing hearts. They always reply with a heartfelt, enthusiastic yes to a request from hospice. We could not ask for more kind, generous, ongoing support,” then executive director Darlene Hildebrand said at the time.
No longer living at the Bear Creek site, the Frys have re-designed their original residence as a three-bedroom suite for guests and a living space for Bill’s mother, Ruth, who also plays a part in the family business.
“When we started construction of the suites, every day I made a home-cooked meal for all the contractors. We continued that when we hired our first employee,” Dorothy Fry said. “Now Ruth has taken over making lunches for the crew.”
The lunch is an opportunity for all the Bear Creek employees to gather mid-day — the bottling plant crew, gardeners, tasting room clerks, housekeeping, and office staff — to collaborate.
“I think that’s one thing the employees really enjoy,” Dorothy Fry said.
Another facet to Bear Creek Winery and Lodging is an annual music festival. This year marks the third event and four bands will be featured: Cousin Curtiss from Colorado, Hussy Hicks from Australia, and two Alaska bands, Ukulele Russ from Fairbanks and Blackwater Railroad Company from Seward. The $65 ticket price includes two beverages.
Proceeds from tickets sales and a live auction benefit the Nikki Geragotelis (Fry) Memorial Scholarship, established in memory of the Frys’ daughter, Nikki, who died in 2013. Overseen by the Homer Foundation, the scholarship honors Geragotelis’s athleticism by being awarded to students who have participated in high school sports and possess sportsmanship qualities. This year’s festival will be held June 1.
The Maurers met in Louis Maurer’s home state of Oregon, where both of them were attending Oregon State University. They began dating about the same time the winery opened and have been involved in its development as their schedules allowed. Louis has a degree in mechanical engineering and Jasmine in marine biology.
“They both love outdoor sports and Alaska, and we actually saw Louis for four or five years before they graduated more than we saw Jasmine,” Dorothy Fry said. “Any time he had a break from school, he’d fly up here, work at the winery and hang out with us.”
Since the Maurers settled in Homer in 2010, Louis has become increasingly a part of the winery’s day-to-day operations and Jasmine has begun work at the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
“I am endlessly proud of what my parents have built and glad they can relax and enjoy where they’re at. It’s amazing that these two took the risk and built this business that would 10 years later incorporate Louis and me. Now they can retire and it can be carried on,” Jasmine Maurer said.
The Maurers are quick to say, “Nothing’s going to change overnight. It will still be Bear Creek Winery.”
“The sense and feeling we have about the business is that it’s still a local business, a family business, and we plan for it to remain a positive member of the community as it always has been in the past,” Jasmine Maurer said.
Dorothy attributes her and Bill’s success to their hometown and their state.
“We would not be where we’re at if it wasn’t for the locals. We really appreciate that,” she said. “We also really appreciate that we have children to pass this on to and that it will continue. We’re very, very lucky.”
“We want the community and the people who supported us to know how fortunate we feel for all the love and support we’ve gotten and for the continuation of what we got started,” he said.
• For ticket information on the Bear Creek Winery Music Festival, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bear-creek-winery-music-festival-and-pig-roast-tickets-58033091539?