Miles City winery strives to make Montana a wine destination

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MILES CITY – When you think of the best wine regions in the world, your mind may wander to Tuscany, Bordeaux or Napa.

With passion and the fruits of labor, a Miles City winemaker is determined to add Montana to this list of great wines.

Winemaking began as a hobby for Bob Thaden when he was just 18 years old.

“It was legal at 18 then, 56 years ago, and not because I liked booze, but because there was so much fruit going to waste in Minnesota with all the rain they had. My wife, girlfriend at the time, she and I were making a lot of jams and jellies and canned fruit and there was still some fruit left over, so I started making wine. The first few Lots have been horrible, but I’ve learned a lot over the past 55 years.

And there is something poetic about a winemaker whose life and career unfolded as a pastor.

“I’m a United Church of Christ pastor and there’s a certain spirituality to that.”

Bob and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Miles City from Broadus over 30 years ago.

The couple planted their first crops in 2004, hoping to have an orchard and vineyard ripe for winemaking when they retire.

But the hot, dry summers and the water from the Tongue River yielded incredible harvests and accelerated plans for the Tongue River Winery.

“We opened on October 1, 2010. Since then, we have sold over a million dollars worth of wine, or approximately 85,000 bottles. By California standards, it’s tiny. They do as much in a weekend in the great vineyards. But for eastern Montana, we are the only winery with a vineyard east of Missoula.

Now president of the Montana Grape and Winery Association, Thaden has firm principles in making Montana wines.

“On my website for the winery, I specifically say that we only use fruit that will grow in Montana. We do not use any fruit imported from California, Washington or Mars. These are all fruits that we grow in Montana. Few wineries do this and I think more should. »

“Why drink Californian wine in Montana? Let’s drink Montana wine in Montana. And that’s why one of our mottos is, “If it doesn’t grow here, we won’t ferment it,” because we want to make Montana wine in Montana.

Thaden grows a hybrid variety of grapes that carry wild grape genetics, vitis riparia, which are native to Montana and can survive our cold temperatures.

“Native Montana grapes crossed with European grapes like Cab, Riesling, Merlot, Shiraz, etc., and that gives them their heartiness. Wild grapes are hearty over -50.

Thaden says if the right fruits are planted, Montana, especially the warm reaches of central and eastern Montana, can become wine titans.

“I want to see more wineries in Montana and especially in southeastern Montana. So if there’s people out there on the north side of Yellowstone on a south slope with water rights who have 5 or 10 acres that they’d like to turn into a vineyard, they should seriously consider that because that could truly be a powerful new direction for the wine industry in Montana.”

Thaden’s wines are already proving his point by placing in winemaking competitions. The feather in the Tongue River Winery’s hat is the awarding of a Jefferson Cup for their 2017 Marquette wine.

“A Jefferson Cup is kind of a ‘best in show’ cup. It’s the only Jefferson Cup won so far by a Montana winery and the only one in the United States for a Marquette wine. There are probably 600 wineries that make Marquette and we have the only Jefferson Cup for a Marquette so we are quite proud of that.

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