VERGREEN — It takes a local to know the best fishing holes, where to aim a fly to catch a westlope cutthroat trout, and how best to kick back and enjoy the natural bounty of this place.
And if Meredith Hanson had her way, the locals would also be the source of information on where to go for wine and a good time. Hanson knows that while the tourism market in the Flathead is huge and exciting, it takes the local population to keep a business alive. Her locals-first approach at Tailing Loop Winery has buoyed the business in its first year, which Hanson celebrated Feb. 16.
“What I really love is that the locals come out,” she said last week as she stood behind the winery’s bar. “I built this for locals.”
The winery sits in the log building that was home to Glacier Art Gallery from 1965 until 2014, a well-known place in Evergreen, and Hanson took great care to refurbish the inside with a bar and a tasting room. Hanson’s wine is available on tap, giving the winery the feel of a microbrewery.
It’s exactly what Hanson, 28, wanted to bring to this unincorporated community, and she has more plans to expand the winery’s reach and role here.
Born and raised in Havre, Hanson was pretty sure she was going to become a doctor when she grew up.
“My family is all doctors,” she said, noting that the family inclination for the profession goes back multiple generations.
With her sights set on pre-med studies, Hanson attended Montana State University in Bozeman, completing in five years what she needed to in order to go to medical school at the University of Washington.
But after five years of intensive study, Hanson decided to take a bit of a break, just a year off to clear her mind and get ready for the rigors of medical school. Her friends graduated and moved out of Bozeman, many heading to Billings because the Bozeman job market was saturated.
Hanson followed. She and her twin, Avery, moved to Billings for her year off of studies, and she eventually found a job with Yellowstone Cellars and Wines. Her role was chemistry — the magic that makes wines unique — and bartending, along with social media updates.
She realized the winemaking process was fascinating, needing both a background in science as well as a flair for the artistic. It’s not just about following recipes, it’s about getting a feel for all of the components involved and making something your own.
“Winemaking is a nice combination of art and science,” Hanson said. “It’s been great.”
To make Tailing Loop wines, Hanson uses various wines sourced from the Columbia Valley in Washington. These wines are young, meaning Hanson can take them and make them unique to Tailing Loop through barrel age, blend, and making chemistry adjustments.
Her latest move is to shift from the young wines to actual grapes themselves from the same area.
“I can’t wait to start from grapes,” she said.
Though a member of the Montana Grape Growers Association, Hanson doesn’t yet grow Montana grapes. But one of her goals is to make a perfect Montana-Washington blend, allowing the more acidic Montana grapes to mingle with the mellower grapes from Washington.
Now that she has a year of business under her belt, Hanson wants to expand. She is planning on hosting farmers markets on the 1-acre property this summer, and wants to have a grape-stomping event this September.
She also wants to build a production facility on site, and use the barn on the property for more gatherings. Live music will be part of it, as will plenty of public outdoor events, she said.
Currently, Tailing Loop hosts all sorts of events, from painting evenings to speed-dating events for singles. Hanson also has plans to start serving meats and cheeses soon.
It’s a sense of momentum she feels across Evergreen, Hanson said, a community she proudly calls home. As more people look for options outside of the Flathead’s cities, Evergreen is a natural place to go.
“Evergreen is definitely up and coming,” Hanson said.
For more information on events at Tailing Loop Winery, visit www.tailingloopwinery.com or call the tasting room at (406) 945-3324.