BY MARYA PENNINGTON, PUBLIC RELATIONS MANAGER
Nothing can end a summer day like sipping a crisp, fresh chardonnay or a big and bold red blend on a beautiful patio. Add some great cheese and a bit of music and you have the perfect finish to a full day. Enjoying an alcoholic beverage with friends at a local pub, bar, brewery or winery seems to be a Montanan pastime, and with so many nationally award winning beers, wines and spirits it’s not hard to see why. In a recent poll, members were asked to respond with their favorite “unique to Billings” business, and Yellowstone Cellars & Winery was chosen as one of the best local hot spots.
Yellowstone Cellars has been in Billings since November of 2010, when it was established by Clint Peck, an MSU agriculture graduate who spent 15 years in the ranching and beef production industry not only in Montana, but also in Brazil and Argentina. Peck became interested in wine production after visiting the Mendoza wine regions of Argentina, and later learned more about the business side of winemaking while helping family with their winery near Bellingham, WA. Peck, as the general contractor, built the 1335 Holiday Circle location of Yellowstone Cellars, and adapted the business and production model to best suit the Yellowstone Valley. Clint remarks, “It’s a family owned business, and my plans are to turn it over to my daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Brandon Skarsten, in 2021.”
Yellowstone Cellars is unique for a few reasons. All of the wines are produced at the local winery right here in Billings. This means that the grapes are crushed, fermented, and the wines are barrel-aged and bottled locally. Also, all of the wines are made from Old World grape varieties sourced from two family vineyards in the Yakima Valley of Washington. Each September and October, Yellowstone Cellars transports around 120,000 pounds of wine grapes to Billings representing 10-12 different varieties.
“We feel so fortunate to be only a day’s drive away from some of the highest quality wine grapes produced in the world.”
As for how they decide on the varieties they make, it came down to research. Peck said, “We have researched consumer trends in wine and wine consumption, but we also know intuitively now what wines our customers prefer. That said, we offer a large variety of wines so we can match consumer demand across the board.” They have also had some releases harvested for 11 years, which adds to the consistency of their wines.
“We work closely with the vineyard owners and collaborate with other Washington winemakers to know which grape varieties will grow the best at each vineyard and produce the best wines.”
Peck not only knows how to pair his wines with food, but also with great entertainment. The winery’s patio venue is one of the more popular and comfortable patios in the area, offering live music every Saturday evening featuring local musicians and singer/songwriters. Music paired with a knowledgeable and professional tasting room staff makes for a great evening out.
The winery has been able to withstand some of the effects from the Covid pandemic by changing the way they do business. Like many, they offer curbside pickup, free delivery within 25 miles of the winery, and free in-state shipping. They also offer two free bottles of wine with every case of 12 bottles of wine purchased. And they did have to reduce their live music offerings from two nights a week down to just one. “We’ve lost some traction on events and other social gatherings, and enforcing social distancing and masking has been hard. It puts us in a tough position, but most of our customers have been very agreeable and understanding,” Peck said.
Peck is proud of the winery’s accomplishments, consistently having been ranked among the top five “things to do” in Billings by Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Harvest Host websites. In 2019 they were chosen the “Best Winery” in Montana by House Beautiful Magazine, and this year were named one of the Top 7 wineries “outside of California” in the United States by TravelWaits.com. Peck takes it all in stride. “It’s the grapes that make our wine. We’re just here to steward the winemaking process by using some of the best wine grapes grown on the Earth.” And we heartily agree—those grapes taste mighty nice.
Photos of wine making, from grape to glass, and winemaker Clint Peck. Photos courtesy Yellowstone Cellars & Winery.
SEPTEMBER 2020 – NOVEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 27