Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Well Traveled Wines - Walla Walla Under the Big Sky

And indeed it was - the sky was big in Montana! It had been a few years since I had stepped foot in the great state of Montana. US - 93 from Spokane via Coeur d'Alene to Montana was a breathtaking ride through the majestic mountains. The picturesque drive around Flathead Lake brought us to our final destination of Big Fork.

Big Fork is located in the mountains of northwestern Montana with an altitude of 2,900 feet. The town wraps around the crystal blue bay of Flathead Lake. With more than 180 miles of shoreline, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The charming town of Big Fork has a western setting with art galleries, fine restaurants, live theatre and of course, shopping. My cousin and her husband live two miles from the quaint little town and of course we couldn’t resist a stop in the "city" for the men in my life to pick up their quota of interesting brews. When in Montana you drink Montana brew. However, that was not the case when it came to wines. No offense to Mission Mountain Winery at Flathead, but you see – when you drink mostly Walla Walla or any Washington wine, you become rather spoiled.

At the market, we loaded up on the local Moose Drool Brown Ale and Scape Goat Pale Ale from the Big Sky Brewing Company and we also spent some time in their very large and impressive wine section. We were pleased to see that some Walla Walla wines were represented in the tourist town of Big Fork. We noted Dunham, L'Ecole, Tamarack, and Woodward Canyon (to name a few) were on the market shelves along with other Washington wines. When we spotted the Waterbrook Melange, two bottles of this affordable and always reliable red blend immediately went into our grocery cart along with the Montana brews, locally made Montana buffalo salami, freshly picked cherries from the many orchards around Flathead Lake and Hermiston melons from our Walla Walla neighbor in Oregon. Who would have thought the best melons from the west would find their way to Montana? We spotted Walla Walla Sweet Onions, but of course we packed our own to share with the relatives.

One afternoon I was able to find a few moments to read, relax and nap in my tent. My family took off to a smaller lake down the road from my cousin’s property. It’s a lake that the locals go to when they want to avoid the tourists at Flathead (not telling the name). Having that quiet time, I started thinking about the Flathead tourists and just tourists in general. Smart move on the wine distributors and the local market to flourish their shelves with wines made from their western neighbor - the state of Washington.

When it comes to wine distribution, wineries should be featured on the shelves where their own tourists reside. In Walla Walla, the majority of our wine tourists are coming from the Western part of the state of Washington - the Seattle area. The second largest group of tourists to hit Walla Walla reside in the neighbor-bordering state of Oregon, and in the last couple of years I have seen a growing number of wine tourists visiting Walla Walla whose homes are in Idaho and Montana. Earlier in the day, as we took count of the Walla Walla and overall Washington wines, it made sense when you consider the miles (Depending on location from MT to WA: two to seven hours in the car with a time change. It's five hours from Seattle to Walla2), that Washington wines would be and should be well represented in this popular town of Montana. It seems like a great marketing strategy to me to saturate a neighboring state, like Montana where your visiting customers are hailing from, before you even market your wine in a mid-west state say like Oklahoma, a northern state like Rhode Island or even the large state of Texas. In Walla Walla we are seeing more visiting wine tourists from Idaho and Montana and following right behind Oregon and certainly not a growing number from Oklahoma, Rhode Island and even a large state like Texas. Besides, all the wine-loving Texans I know do not believe that Washington State is the second largest wine producing state in the nation, let alone that other states in the nation exists. My Texas friends tell me that they are the only ones that produce wine, as far as they are concerned. Afterall, they are known as the "Lone State." Heh. The point is that your largest population of well-cultivated customers cannot always visit your winery, so you go to them by being convenient at their local market or wine store.

I must also mention that while in Montana I discovered that the College Cellars of Walla Walla has new labels! Even the back label has a new feature with handy symbols guiding the customer on how to pair the College Cellars wines with specific foods (beef, cheese, chicken, fish, etc). Great idea! At our reunion auction fund raiser, a bottle of College Cellars Governors Blend - 2005 (rumor is that the Governor herself recently obtained a case for a dinner) and a bottle of College Cellars Lemberger - 2005 found its way to Montana. And might I say that both bottles returned back to Walla Walla and then later one left for the "Live Free or Die" state of New Hampshire. A well traveled wine. Cheers!


Anonymous said...


I'm glad you enjoyed your time here in MT. People here do seem to know and enjoy their micro-brews. There are a lot of breweries in the state and a lot in Missoula. I've never really liked beer so I've never taken a tour of the breweries. Next time you're in these parts though you should see if the guys can find a beer called "Old Bong Water" people seem to love it. Moose Drool probably is one of the most popular though. Also, around here we think the best melons in the world come from the Dixon melon farm in Dixon, MT.


winedeb said...

Welcome Back Catie! Sounds like you had a great time and had some wonderful beverages! I love the Moose Drool, I am going to see if I can find it while I am here in Ohio before I go home. Cheers!

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hey Becky! Finally I make it to your state, especially after all of your visits to Walla2 wine country. I have got to check out the "Old Bong Water." Next time!

Deb, thanks for stopping by! The squash soup on front of your blog looks delicious! You sharing the recipe?

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