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Yellowstone Cellars in Billings offers unique experience to Montanans

Brandon Skarsten of Yellowstone Cellars testing a batch
Posted at 5:45 PM, Sep 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-26 10:44:22-04

BILLINGS — Winemaking in Montana oftentimes presents itself with many challenges.

Our harsh winters make it impossible for grape crops to cultivate. But that didn't stop Clint Peck from making his own wine.

Peck sold everything he owned to make his dream a reality—even his cows.

He was able to open up Yellowstone Cellars in Billings in 2010 and has been producing Montana-made wine ever since.

In 2018 during a family camping trip, Peck propositioned his daughter Sarah and her husband Brandon to purchase the winery from him.

At first, the couple thought Peck was crazy. But by the end of the weekend, they found themselves writing up a contract on a napkin, and the rest was history.

Sarah and Brandon Skarsten were living in Missoula and were looking for a change. So they sold their house and moved to Billings with their two daughters to take over Peck's winery.

While they had always been involved in the business, Sarah and Brandon still had a lot to learn when it came to running the winery.

Luckily Peck was there to help.

Brandon learned winemaking from Peck, and Sarah learned to manage the front end of the business.

The Skarsten’s officially purchased the winery last September, and have been running the business for the last year.

Clint Peck can still be found working at the winery, but everyday operations are now handled by the Skarsten family.

While the climate in Montana makes it seemingly impossible to cultivate wine grape crops, Yellowstone Cellars came up with a creative solution.

The grapes for Yellowstone Cellars’ wine are grown in the Yakima Valley of Washington. Once they are harvested, the Skarsten's drive 13 hours each way to transport the crops.

Brandon Skarsten explains that great wine starts with great grapes, which is why they have chosen the Yakima Valley. “You can make bad wine with good grapes, but you can’t make good wine with bad grapes,” Brandon says.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, why don’t you just have them shipped over here?’” Sarah explains. "It’s a little bit of having some control, having a relationship with the growers, you know we walk the rows and pull samples."

By transporting the grapes to Billings, the Skarsten's can create meaningful relationships with the growers and do some quality control.

“Walking those rows of grapes, you know there’s something really satisfying about it, and saying, ‘These are our grapes we get to take home and make wine out of,’” Sarah explains.

The family says they offer a laid-back style for their wine tastings and say they treat their customers like friends.

Yellowstone Cellars offers wine, food, and good conversation. They also have live music every Friday and Saturday, and their daughter Ariana can oftentimes be found performing on stage.

“A winery in Montana, it’s not Washington or Oregon. I always see Montana as being sort of a beer state,” says Brandon. “You have all of the ingredients to make beer easily in Montana, but with wine, the product isn’t right here. So unless you’re crazy like us and drive 13 hours to get your grapes, I don’t know," Sarah adds.

Wineries in Montana aren’t common, so wine lovers of Billings say they are thrilled to have a place like Yellowstone Cellars.

"We were all very surprised at how amazing the wine was and we loved the atmosphere," says Robin Windham, a local Billings realtor. "They’re just good, honest, genuine people who make amazing wine. I feel like they’re family."

The winery celebrated its 12th annual grape stomp this Saturday. Yellowstone Cellars invited wine lovers and their families to their business on Holiday Circle for a day full of wine, food, live music, and fun.

Yellowstone Cellars Grape Stomp Bin
Yellowstone Cellars Grape Stomp Bin

All event-goers were invited to get in the bin and stomp. The participants ages ranged from 98 years old to newborn babies. There was also an “I Love Lucy” costume contest that event-goers could compete in.

The stomp begins with a blessing and lasts all night.

Brandon explains that this event is a great way for the community to come out and celebrate, as well as learn more about the winemaking process.

While the climate in Montana might make it hard to make wine, the Skarsten's have found a unique way to still make local wine for the people of Montana.

They offer free tastings as well as around 25 varietals.

All wine is made in-house, and Sarah and Brandon say they are always happy to teach those interested about the ins and outs of winemaking.

“We’re not master sommeliers, but we’re really passionate about wine. We know our wines and we love making great wines and sharing it with people," Sarah explains. "That’s such a big part of it because wine is such a social thing, that’s a big part of what happens here."

For more information on Yellowstone Cellars, please click here.