Brewing a brand

Couple’s wine-making hobby leads them to open Cat-n-Bird Winery

Story by Emily Sparacino

Photographs by Dawn Harrison

Matt and Robyn Lyons of Chelsea discovered a shared interest in wine as soon as they started dating several years ago.

Matt, 45, had been experimenting with the process of brewing wine at home before he and Robyn, 39, met through mutual friends. Robyn joined in, and by the time the couple married in October 2015, they had made about 1,000 bottles of wine together.

“We were just kind of living happy lives,” Matt said. “We were comfortable, but most of our friends wanted our wine.”

Request after request started pouring in from the couple’s friends and family members that wanted more than a sip of the wines they were making.

Matt and Robyn have full-time jobs. He sells software, and she is a physical therapist. Wine-making was only something they enjoyed doing together.

But, after so many requests, they entertained thoughts of their hobby maturing into a small business.

They started dreaming of opening a winery.

In early 2016, Matt and Robyn discovered a farm home on a roughly 5-acre spread of property known to many locals as “the old alpaca farm” off Old U.S. 280 in Chelsea was for sale.

When they toured the property, they realized it could be a good fit for their vision.

“Immediately, we said we have to figure out how to turn this thing into a winery,” Matt said. “I said, ‘There’s 1,000 reasons this won’t happen, and there’s one reason it will. Let’s shoot for the one.’”

They purchased the property in April and started the preliminary process for opening a winery about a week later, including city planning and zoning approvals, federal approvals and Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approval, Matt said.

In the meantime, Matt and Robyn started renovating the basement of their new home to accommodate a small-scale winery, or “boutique micro-winery,” as they call it.

They did the electrical work, bar installation, painting, decorating and the floors with brown paper bags spread out and covered with polyurethane to create a textured look under a smooth surface.

They created a production room, where all of the wine is made, and an events room outfitted with a screen, projector, sound system and several bistro tables, with space to spare.

Outside, they have a patio area and deck they plan to expand, plus ample backyard space they can work with to accommodate certain events in the future.

“Eventually, we will build a larger venue out there,” Matt said. “If that happens, we will put in a ‘wine cave.’”

The walls in the tasting room are adorned with local artwork that visitors can buy.

With their licenses in place and their business space ready, Matt and Robyn introduced the culmination of their work and dreams: Cat-n-Bird Winery.

The name “Cat-n-Bird” and the accompanying logo of a bird perched atop a lion’s head are clever nods to the couple’s last name, Lyons, and the name Robyn.

The winery’s name preceded the winery itself, Matt said. They came up with “Cat-n-Bird” as a creative name for a business when they were still dating.

The name also ties into Matt and Robyn and their three children, Emily (19), Ethan (15) and Sophie (13) having a variety of animals on the property, including two horses, a miniature donkey, three cats and three dogs.

Since they don’t have a vineyard to grow grapes on the property themselves, Matt and Robyn use grapes sourced from places like California and Germany to make their wines.

“We have complete flexibility,” Matt said. “The fun part is we get to pick and choose. We buy whatever we want.”

Currently, they have Riesling, Chardonnay, Argentine trio blend, Moscato and Gewürztraminer, and they expect a variety of reds to be available in January 2018.

“We’ll do seasonal batches,” Robyn said, noting they want to offer an ongoing variety of wines.

They do everything themselves, from brewing to bottling to corking to labeling to pouring wine during tastings.

Matt enjoys researching wine and its production. He takes notes and keeps spreadsheets of all of the recipes.

The couple is planning a grand opening event for April 8.

Already, they have held private tastings, corporate events and a wedding.

A private tasting and tour is $5 per person.

Following the grand opening, Cat-n-Bird Winery likely will be open one day a week for customers, in addition to private tastings and events.

For more information or to schedule a private tasting or corporate event, contact Matt and Robyn Lyons at (205) 610-WINE, on Facebook (@catnbirdwinery), on Instagram or at Cat-n-bird.com.

The winery is located at 11661 Old U.S. 280 in Chelsea.

“What we don’t want it to be is a job,” Matt said. “It’s just exciting. We’ve got all this momentum. We’ll see where it goes.”