As breweries continue their burgeoning ascension of popularity across Montana, one Flathead business is taking wine into the same model.
Flathead County approved Meredith Hanson’s application for Tailing Loop Winery, a domestic winery and tasting room, set to open inside the former Glacier Art Gallery in Evergreen. Hanson, who moved to the Flathead from Billings, hopes to bring a winery to Evergreen in a brewery-type setting. She worked in a similar winery in Billings, which operated primarily in the afternoon, allowing people to drink after work, listen to live music and unwind.
“It’s a completely new model and it’s good for Montana, because people love the brewery style,” she said.
She hopes to open Tailing Loop sometime in March.
Hanson said the former gallery space was perfect for Tailing Loop, where she also hopes to showcase local artwork. Inside the wooden lodge-style building on Montana 35, crews have been working to redevelop the old gallery into a bar and tasting room. A bar will be built in the center of the main room where wine will be available on tap. Hanson is keeping the hardwood interior left by the former owner after the gallery closed down in 2014. A side room is currently filled with booths collected from bars and restaurants in Washington, all of which Hanson will refurbish.
“It has the right feeling for me and the space fit perfectly,” she said. “I was aiming for a modern-rustic Montana theme, so this place was perfect. It definitely has the right history to it.”
Hanson, originally from Havre, graduated with a pre-medical degree from Montana State University before moving to Billings for a break from school. She plans on eventually returning to medical school.
A part-time job at a winery in Billings opened her eyes to the chemistry and experimentation in the world of wine.
“It’s a good combination of the creative side and the science side,” she said.
In Billings, Hanson was soon driving a forklift and learning the trade. She said her gap-year soon turned into three as she became more entrenched in the newly-learned process. After a three-year stint in Billings, the 26-year-old developed a plan to bring her new passion to the Flathead.
“It’s been a year of jumping through hoops,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t expect quite as much paperwork as I had to.”
Licensing Tailing Loop Winery took a similar process to opening a brewery, requiring a form of a liquor license from the federal government. She found the location, set up a business plan and devised a menu while waiting for the license to be approved.
By fall, Hanson hopes to start making her own wine, with the creativity and precision she learned in Billings.
“If you can make a good quality grape, it’s a step-by-step chemical process,” Hanson said. “Then there’s a lot of things you can do along the way.” Before her grapes are ready for wine, she’ll draw from her favorite wineries in the region, mostly Washington.
“I do plan on having the good-old standbys like the Malbec and Cabernets and then fun ones deciding on the best grapes and wines,” she said.
Hanson wants to make wines that are strong and dry, using different yeasts and fermentation to get different results. She said barrel-aging is another important step to the process of creating a unique wine.
“That’s the whole purpose of winemaking, to make it your own,” she said.
The challenge of winemaking in Montana, Hanson said, is growing grapes that can survive the cold seasons. But she’s inspired by wine growers in Germany and France, and even here in Montana, where wineries have already popped up from Billings to Missoula.
“So you can definitely do it, but the biggest question is, is it going to taste good?” she said. “You have to be pretty choosy about the grapes you plant here.”
She said with the current investment, she hopes to operate the winery for about 10 years before becoming a medical doctor. Once things are up and running, Hanson hopes Tailing Loop will attract regulars, new wine drinkers and travelers alike. It’s the people, she said, that have enchanted her toward the two career paths.
Reporter Seaborn Larson may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.