Growing up with a wine connoisseur for a father, Nicole Erickson always had dreams of opening a winery in her home state of Montana.
“He’s always had an extensive wine cellar and it’s always been a hobby of his and he’s instilled that passion in me,” Erickson said.
After years of working as a veterinary technician, dog groomer and dog walker in Denver and Helena, Erickson is finally fulfilling her dream by opening her new winery called Unleashed: A Winery.
The 145-person capacity space in downtown Whitefish offers a bar area with local custom tables and a 30-person space in the back of the winery for private events.
The illuminated water vapor fire centered in the middle of the old, brick wall provides a cozy and modern touch to the Spokane Avenue building, which still has its original architecture and a charred ceiling from a structure fire in the 1950s.
In the west end of the winery, customers can view the 1,000-liter tanks where the wine is fermented from juices that Erickson orders from California’s central coast. The tank-to-tank filtration process takes two months for white wines and three months for red. The wine is then bottled in house.
Erickson plans to keep a balanced selection of white, red, flavor-infused and port wines, ranging between $19 and $35 per bottle. Among her favorites is the Syrah, a red wine with vanilla and tobacco undertones.
In addition to wine, Unleashed will also offer an assortment of cheese and crackers and Posh Chocolat out of Missoula. Erickson also hopes to collaborate with other businesses and eventually host sip and paint classes and Pilates classes.
While Erickson currently has five employees, she thinks she’ll eventually need more as the winery grows. For now, she has four servers along with her manager and assistant winemaker, Jaren Stiles. With a background in chemical testing, he helps with the production site and has played an important role in the winery’s creation.
“We’ve been friends for about 10 years and we’ve bonded over many bottles of wine,” Erickson said. “It just seemed like a natural fit to bring him with the chemical testing.”
Both native Montanans, with Erickson from Helena and Stiles from Malta, the two wine enthusiasts envisioned the winery in Whitefish after visiting the town many times in their lives.
“I’ve always envisioned it in a mountain town,” Erickson said. “I think it’s a really unique feature to have in a mountain town.”
Erickson draws a lot of her inspiration from experiences she’s had at wineries around the world. From California and Washington to Spain and Copenhagen, her travels influenced the winery’s atmosphere.
“I want to create an awesome experience that people are walking away and talking about,” she said. “No matter what, you can come in here and enjoy yourself whether you’re a wine drinker or not.”
Unleashed: A Winery will host its grand opening on Saturday, Jan. 18 from noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 19 from noon to 4 p.m.
On Saturday, all glass pours will be half off and there will be tickets available to try all 12 wines or six wines.
Sunday will have specials every hour that will be posted on the Unleashed website and Facebook page.
Unleashed is located at 20 Spokane Ave.
For more information, visit www.unleashedwinery.com.