Southlake Journal

May 5, 2014

Veterans plan summer opening for winery in Grapevine

Best friends Alan Kunst and Ralph Mattison Jr. hope to have Sloan & Williams Winery open by July 4.

When Alan Kunst and Ralph Mattison Jr. met as cadets in the ROTC program at Tarleton State University in December 1996, the two became instant best friends.

Throughout their military and later civilian careers, they never lost touch via phone.

“We talk sometimes five times a day,” Kunst said.

From Day One, they talked as friends do about owning a business someday. They even came up with a business model that included a favorite past time — wine.

The years passed and the two went about raising their families and taking civilian jobs. Then, a few years ago, they started discussing their futures. Both agreed it was time to take their longtime dream to the next level.

They decided to open a winery.

“We finally pulled the trigger,” said Kunst, 42, a former Army cavalry aeroscout pilot.

After many months of planning, including leasing a site in downtown historic Grapevine, they got unanimous approval from the City Council this spring for Sloan & Williams Winery — taken from their middle names.

“Out of every place we could have gone to, this is home,” said Mattison, 44, who lives in Flower Mound and is a former Army cavalry officer.

Co-owner Kunst, who lives in Mansfield, agreed, saying, “Everyone has their passions — ours is wine. We believe the process of turning grapes into wine is more than a science or a production. It’s an art.”

The two, speaking on the steps outside City Hall after their business was approved, said they are the sole founders, proprietors and wine makers of Sloan & Williams brand of wines. Their entire business is split 50/50.

“As former military veterans, we believe integrity and respect are paramount in everything we do and you will find this same ‘code of conduct’ in every bottle we produce,” Kunst said.

The two said they plan on producing top-tier quality wines, and won’t mimic wine producers from other regions. They have made arrangements with grape growers in Texas, California and Washington.

“We are making our mark by producing wines that have specific notes and characters only found in our Texas region,” Kunst said. “Our promise is that every bottle is unconditionally guaranteed to be produced with integrity, honor, respect and Texas pride.”

He added that their winery “will be Texas themed with a heritage of old Texas.”

Their company will offer wholesale and retail wine sales, and will have indoor and outdoor seating, wine and food pairing events and private parties.

Their road to Grapevine was a long one, beginning nearly two decades ago when they met at school. Mattison was driving about 200 miles per school day from Killeen and Kunst lived near the college in Stephenville.

So the two came up with a plan. Mattison would live with Kunst and his family Monday through Friday and go home to his wife on weekends.

“We adopted him,” Kunst said with a smile. “We lived together like brothers.”

They banded together on Feb. 18 to appear at a City Council meeting to get approval from city leaders to open a winery establishment at 112 E. Texas St.

Mayor William D. Tate had issues with approving it, and expressed concerns about outdoor seating that could potentially be a problem for people associated with nearby First Baptist Church, especially on Sundays.

The matter was tabled until March 18. This time, the prospective business owners had made arrangements to erect a five-foot screening wall to provide insulation between their three outside tables and anyone walking down Texas Street.

They also agreed to close the outside patio by 10 p.m. every day.

“I’m satisfied with the way they are doing the outside seating,” Tate said.

With the unanimous OK from the City Council along with the Planning and Zoning Commission, the former military veterans and their business were officially welcomed to Grapevine.

In addition to serving wine and limited food, the site will include wine production.

“We are able to take the fruit, de-stem it, crush it, press it, ferment it, age it, bottle it and distribute it,” Mattison said.

The co-owners said that even before they knew they would get approval from the city, they leased the property and began outfitting it with vats, a de-stemmer/crusher and a wine press. If the City Council had denied their request, it was going to be an expensive venture.

“We decided to take a risk, not a gamble,” Kunst said. “The difference is if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, you move forward. A gamble is if it doesn’t work out, you are bankrupt and devastated.”

Mattison added that “everyone involved in the process went out of their way to help us.”

They are “shooting” for a July 4 opening.

“We want a cozy, comfortable atmosphere where people came come in and join in one another’s fellowship and spend time with their friends,” Mattison said. “I see the wine as enhancing the fellowship.”

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