Wine hobby turns into career for Butler businessman

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

Gary Matson is in his winery, Rustic Acres, seven days a week from April to December, creating the smoothest wine he possibly can.

“That's my trademark,” said Matson. “I pride myself in making an ultra-smooth wine.”

Matson creates and sells 58 varities of wine.

“Pretty much any taste can be satisfied here,” said customer Pete Brogue of Butler, who typically buys Matson's fruit and specialty wines.

Matson, now 58, started making homemade wine with his dad in 1984, but didn't begin to sell it until October 2005.

“Everyone loved it and wanted to buy it from me,” Matson said.

Matson let his business grow before quitting his 30-plus year career in the construction and inspection industry in March 2007. The Oak Hill winery is now Matson's livelihood. The operation consists of himself and one part-time employee. He's capable of making 5,000 to 6,000 gallons of wine a year.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health inspects the winery for safety and cleanliness, and the business comes under the watch of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

“I need to keep track of gallons, sales, and I especially keep strict records of the salt and sugar I use for the PALCB to see,” he said.

The records “help me know what wines I sell more of and what I sell less of. Then, I can flip a book open to see how much of each wine I sold in the last month. It also helps me know what I'll need more or less of for wine that needs to be made.”

First-time customers like Pam Bland are surprised at Rustic Acres' selection.

“We tasted whatever wines we thought we'd like,” said Bland, of Indiana, Indiana County.

Bland soon left with semi-sweet bottles of Pear, Niagara, Holiday Gold and Rustic Red.

“I think we'll be coming back,” Bland said.

Repeat customers are key to Matson's success.

“I would occasionally buy wine from the state store, but I didn't like it,” said Linda Cypher of Butler.

Now, Cypher buys sweet wine from Rustic Acres at least once a week.

“I didn't know how to buy wine until I met Gary here,” Cypher said.

Another regular is Joyce Augustine of Butler.

“I just started drinking wine three or four years ago, and Gary had me taste Pear wine that I didn't think I'd like,” Augustine said.

Augustine was hooked and began working part-time for Matson five months ago.

“It's such a nice atmosphere here, so I thought I could help,” Augustine said.

Matson even named one of his wines for one of his regulars, retired Navy Capt. John Kemper of Butler.

“A formal celebration in the Navy is called dining in, and we used a port wine for the toast,” Kemper said.

Matson, with Kemper's blessing and input, created a port-like wine called Capt. John's White Port.

“Not too many people have a wine named after them, so I was quite honored,” Kemper said.

Kemper's pilot helmet is now a part of Rustic Acres' showroom, which features contributions from many of Matson's family members, friends and even customers.

Cypher made the purple curtains that hang from winery's windows. Matson's son, Gary Matson Jr., constructed most of the winery's woodwork. And Matson's girlfriend, Cynthia, has taken over the winery's showroom.

“She really has a great eye for the showroom, so I take her advice,” Matson said.

However, Matson didn't take his dad's advice when he started selling wine.

“He thought I was nuts,” Matson said. “He didn't think you could start something like this at my age.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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