Guests arrive at the Castle Creek Winery bar on a busy afternoon last week. [Photo by Frank Schramm / Moab Sun News]

In a little over a decade, Will Fryer, owner and winemaker at Castle Creek Winery, and his father, entrepreneur Colin Fryer, have built an oasis in the desert for wine lovers.

Castle Creek was purchased by Colin Fryer (owner of Red Cliffs Lodge, Redstone Inn, Big Horn Lodge, Rustic Inn), in 2002 from Salt Lake City businesswoman Anita Bradford. Bradford, an LDS investor who had never even sipped her own product, opened what was then called Arches Winery, in 1989, as Utah’s first winery.

Since purchasing the winery and renaming it Castle Creek Winery, The Fryers set on a path of quick expansion. The acquisition of state-of-the art equipment and considerable advancements in viticulture technology have brought Castle Creek Winery to the industry forefront, culminating in several award-winning wines.

The first wine grapes were planted in Moab in 1986. Grapes were sold to a winery in Grand Junction, Colo., where grape growing created millions of dollars in economic development and jobs before commercial manufacture of wine in Utah became legal in 1989. Initial taxes were levied at over 50 percent, challenging profits for wine growers. Sales at that time were outlawed on Sundays and holidays. Will Fryer has been instrumental in successfully lobbying for changes in legislation that have brought the industry into a modern competitive market.

In addition to his own harvest, Will Fryer supports and purchases a variety of grapes from over a dozen Moab-area growers and other producers, some out of state. The local Moab micro-climate is known for growing the finest grapes in Utah. Castle Creek’s production varies from year to year, but averages about 10,000 gallons of both red and whites annually (approximately 4,200 cases, 50,000 bottles). The winery makes and sells several white and red wines annually, adapting its menu to harvest, quality and the market.

“We visit a number of wineries on our travels throughout the country – We’re loving this wine,” said Rick Bohrer of Atlee, Va., who with his wife June, were visitors in the tasting room at Castle Creek. “This is a magnificent cabernet. I’m pleasantly surprised”

Will Fryer said he’s more focused on the quality of wine than the quantity of production.

“We are nearing the goal of our production level,” he said. “Now I can pay attention to refining the product, perfecting the taste.”

Gradual additions, such as new fermentation tanks, machinery for destemming, grape pressing, must pump, bottling line, sanitization, and strict temperature control through a sophisticated glycol system, as well as bottling and labelling equipment, have steadily improved the wine quality. Tasks that were earlier performed by hand by Will Fryer and others, are now carefully managed, maximizing the potential for wine balance and improved quality.

Every year, Will Fryer said he makes substantial capital investments; profit is secondary to product. The process is now so streamlined that Fryer is proud of the competitive value of his wines. Castle Creek wines have placed in several competitions. Lilly Rose White won the Finger Lakes International competition.

Will Fryer and his staff studied viniculture at University of California-Davis. Their involvement in continuing education is paying dividends in awards and acclaim. Even Will Fryer’s 5-year-old son Cassius gets in on the fun.

“He’s the only one who can fit into some those smaller tanks and clean them out” Will Fryer said.

Will Fryer said he enjoys mixing with customers and the public. He looks forward to the release of some new-to-be-released labels, especially Monument Red and Petroglyph White.

Castle Creek is located at Milepost 14 on state Route 128. The tasting room welcomes visitors seven days a week. Castle Creek features a balanced menu of white and red wines from Chenin Bland to Outlaw Red, a variety of custom hand-crafted unique furnishings, mostly from wine barrels. Wines may be purchased there for under $15 per bottle, at many local restaurants from $5 to $9 per glass and at liquor stores in Utah.

Fryer family focuses on quality at Castle Creek Winery

We are nearing the goal of our production level. Now I can pay attention to refining the product, perfecting the taste.”