The Montana wine industry, though still in its relative infancy, is causing quite a buzz. Montana vintners either grow their own grapes, or, more frequently, import grapes from vineyards in Washington, Oregon, and California. For a distinctly Montana twist, some makers are using Flathead cherries, wild huckleberries, tart chokecherries, and even local honey in their wines.
Eight wineries are currently in production and many of their wines can be found in our local restaurants, grocery stores, and specialty wine and liquor stores. If you don't see them on your menu or on the shelves, just ask.
Where: 410 Expressway (near Reserve Street), Missoula
Tours and tastings: Saturdays, 1 to 6 p.m.
History: Vintner Doug Wagner boasts award-winning grape wines under the ClearWeather label as well as the Rock Creek label, a joint venture with another winemaker to produce pinots and syrahs. He gets grapes from the reputed Champoux Vineyard in Washington as well as other Washington and Oregon vineyards.
Wagner said he usually has six to eight wines, including a Lemberger grape wine called Blue Frank (a big fruity wine with limited tannins), three cabernets, a couple merlots, a muscat cannelli and some Riesling.
Flathead Lake Winery, www.flatheadlakewinery.com
Where: Winery in Ronan, office in Lakeside
Tours and tastings: Not available at this time.
History: Paddy Fleming, a licensed Montana winemaker since 2002, is the proud papa of Glacier wild huckleberry wine, made solely with wild huckleberries.
Another popular juice is Fleming's Flathead Lake cherry wine, a medium dry wine comparable to a merlot made using cherries grown on the lake's south shore. Fleming also makes Mission Valley apple wine, Big Sky Country currant wine and Montana Pioneer pear wine. A gewÃ¼rztraminer is in the works and folks can pick up a bottle of Flathead Lake wine at local wine retailers.
Lolo Peak Winery, www.lolopeak.com
Where: Located on the corner of Mount Avenue and Reserve Street in Missoula.
Tours and tastings: Tours by appointment; tasting room open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
History: Judy Chapman grabbed the state's second winery license in 1998 and started selling her fruit wines the following year.
Chapman learned the art of winemaking from her father and deals solely in western Montana fruits. Most of her wines are best served slightly chilled. She makes cherry and honey wine, apple and honey wine, rhubarb wine, Montana cherry wine, plum wine, spiced apple and honey wine and raspberry wine.
Mission Mountain Winery, www.missionmountainwinery.com
Where: Located on Highway 93 in Dayton, on the west shore of Flathead Lake.
Tours and tastings: Open daily May through October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
History: Started by Tom Campbell Jr. and his father in 1984, Mission Mountain Winery was the first bonded winery in the state and has blossomed into the largest. The award-winning winery produces more than 6,000 cases of wine each year, including noir blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, Monster chardonnay, pinot gris, Sundown blush, muscat canelli dinner wine, Ice wine, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, Monster Red (a merlot-cabernet blend), cream sherry and port.
After years of grape-growing experimentation, the Campbells dedicated four hillside acres of the 25-acre spread to vinifera grapes, primarily pinot noir, pinot gris and gewÃ¼rztraminer. Campbell also buys grapes from vineyards in western Montana and surrounding states.
While Mission Mountain wines are available at most wine retailers around the state, a visit to the winery lets folks sample the various wines, have a look at the production area and even check out the grapes growing on the vines. In addition, visitors will notice the dozens of medals Campbell has collected over the years, which place Montana-made wines right up there with the other fine juices of the world.
Rolling Hills Winery
Where: Located on Highway 2 in Culbertson.
Tours and tastings: Monday through Friday, 2 to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact: 406-787-5787, 406-787-5767
History: George Nickoloff's love affair with homemade wine has fructified into a successful little winery, the first in the eastern part of the state. They produce six varieties: raspberry, blueberry, chokecherry, honey, plum and rhubarb." Nickoloff and his wife, Roxanne, grow the raspberries and rhubarb, and, except for the blueberries, the rest of the fruit is local.
Passers-by are invited to stop in, check out the production area and belly up to the bar in the Rolling Hills tasting room. The wine isn't yet available in the Great Falls area, so folks have to roll out east to sample the goods. The winery is attached to the Nickoloff's car wash.
Ten Spoon Vineyard & Winery, www.tenspoonwinery.com
Where: 4175 Rattlesnake Drive, Missoula
Tours and tastings: By appointment.
History: Andy Sponseller and Connie Poten have been growing organic grapes in the Missoula Rattlesnake since 1998. Serious harvesting began in 2003, when Ten Spoon became a licensed winery.
The vines at Ten Spoon grow early ripening grapes such as Marechal Foche, Frontenac, Leon Millot, St. Croix and Swenson Red (reds) and St. Pepin and LaCrosse (whites) that do well in the cold. More grapes and other fruits are gathered from Flathead Lake orchards as well as those in Washington, Oregon and California.
The Ten Spoon wine list boasts Moonlight pinot noir, Range Rider Red, Roadblock pinot noir, Blind Curve sauvignon blanc, Firehole sauvignon blanc, Flathead cherry dry (the most popular), Farm Dog Red and Fat Cat.
Trapper Creek Winery, www.trappercreekwinery.com
Where: 310 N. 4th St., Suite F (behind the Old Carriage House), Hamilton
Tours and tastings: Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
History: Though Painted Rocks Winery closed in 2003, founder Ken Schultz continued making his popular honey-based wines and is marketing under a new label.
Trapper Creek Winery specializes in mead, the oldest fermented beverage on the planet, according to Schultz. Schultz's wine list includes a light mead, a dark mead, a spiced mead and several fruit-blended varieties, like huckleberry, chokecherry and elderberry.
Trapper Peak Winery, www.trapperpeakwinery.com
Where: Located about six miles south of Darby off Highway 93.
Tours and tastings: Not available at this time.
History: With 20 years experience tending his father's vineyard in northern California, Keith Smith decided to give the Montana wine industry a whirl. Licensed since 2004, Smith produces a cabernet sauvignon and a petit syrah under the label Trapper Peak, named for the mountain view from the facility. The grapes all come from that northern California vineyard. However, the wines are finished and barreled in the Darby winery.
The Smiths call theirs a patriotic label, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to support families of fallen soldiers. The Trapper Peak Web site provides links to their supported organizations The Heart of a Marine and TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Wine buyers can vote for who they would like the money to go to, and the money is distributed accordingly, all in the name of good wine.