"Other 47" Wine Challenge Week 2 - Montana

2009 Mission Mountain Riesling

My wife's first trip to Montana resulted in utter disappointment. For those who haven't been to Montana, the Rocky Mountains are only located in the western part of the state and the rest of the state looks a lot more like Kansas than it does the Swiss Alps. Add to that a visit with no fly fishing and no Brad Pitt (a reference to 'A River Runs Through It' for those younger than 30) and you can see why things weren't going to go well. What neither of us knew was that if we had ventured west to Flathead Lake in the Rockies, up to an elevation of 2,900 feet, we would have found "Montana wine country." On the western side of the lake in a town called Dayton, population 95, is the Mission Mountain Vineyard and Winery, Montana's first bonded winery.

What kind of mountain man makes wine in western Montana? His name is Tom Campbell Jr. and not only did he study viticulture and enology at University of California at Davis, but he also worked as an enologist at Jekel and Shiloh in California and Ste. Michelle and Quail Run (now Covey Run) in Washington. Tom and his father, Dr. Thomas Campbell Sr., first planted the Dayton vineyard in 1979 and started Mission Mountain Winery in 1984. In addition to managing Mission Mountain, Tom is also the director of wine production for Woodhouse Wine Estates in Woodinville, WA and owner / wine maker of Tanjuli Winery in Zillah, WA.

Growing wine grapes in Montana is not easy; the short growing season (May-Oct) and cold winters limit the varieties that can be grown to those which ripen quickly and can survive sub-zero temperatures. After years of experimentation the vineyard currently produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Tom augments his Montana grapes with grapes grown in Washington's Rattlesnake Hills and Idaho's Snake River Valley.

The 2009 Riesling is produced from grapes from all three states. If you only drink dry Rieslings, this wine is probably not for you as the sweetness (1.65% residual sugar) is evident. For those who like a little sweetness with their wine, the 2009 Riesling is wonderful! The bouquet is huge, and half of the fun with this wine is just enjoying the aromas. While candied apricots, pears, and apples dominate, there is also a slight hint of pepper and minerality. If you're looking for an inexpensive, slightly sweet Riesling to go with spicy Chinese or Thai dishes or a summer sipper for the front porch, the Mission Mountain Riesling is an excellent choice. And it's from Montana!

The 2011 Riesling is available on Mission Mountain's website for $9.99 and can be shipped to CA, CO, FL, MN, MT, WA, and DC. According to Tom, the 2011 vintage was cooler than 2009, resulting in a similar wine with a slightly crisper finish.

Published: April 1, 2013

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