Before Xanterra Travel Collection took over the contract for Glacier National Park Lodges nine years ago, assistant director of food and beverage and certified sommelier Dan Vogel compared the menu to that of a high school cafeteria.
But after Xanterra took over, managers committed to adapting their food, wine, design and commerce to boost the Glacier National Park visitor’s dining experience, and this year the travel collection won two Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for the new wine programs at Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel and will be featured in the August issue of Wine Spectator.
The international award is based on several criteria, including wine variety and balance. It must also be accessible to the public as opposed to a private club, and a training program is required. Since 2016, Xanterra certified more than 24 food and beverage staff members in the Court of Master Sommeliers Level.
“The culture of wine is all about education,” Vogel said.
Vogel began narrowing the wine list of more than 500 down to 90 types of wine for the program, with wineries ranging from Armenia to Miles City, each requiring a certified sustainability component.
The curated wine list features several varieties, each costing $28 per bottle or under $9 per glass. The prices are determined by the National Park Service, which requires food and beverage menus to service the average American, regardless of its profitability.
“This curated list is just like curating a museum,” Vogel said. “You look for things that have some oddity and a story with some background.”
Vogel wanted to make sure the wine list showed a wide range of stories, with both national and international wineries included. The Yacoubian-Hobbs white blend hails from Armenia, a winery with more than 6,000 years of winemaking history.
Contrasting the oldest winery on the menu is the Marquette from White Raven Winery in Columbia Falls, which is made from grapes grown on Finley Point.
“White Raven is arguably the newest wine region potentially in the world,” Vogel said.
Other Montana wineries include Tongue River Winery out of Miles City, Willow Mountain Winery out of Corvallis and Unleashed out of Whitefish.
Vogel is also active in the Montana winery community and sits on the board of the Montana Grape and Wine Association.
In addition to the wine menu, staff have upgraded the food menu over the past few years to offer a fine dining experience, despite the logistical barriers of being located in a national park.
“Xanterra really wanted to elevate the menu and it’s a very difficult thing to do because of the distance and space,” Vogel said. “Even in great years supply chains have affected us and with so many visitors, there’s usually not a square inch of this dining room that’s not full of people. As a result, food quality went down, and it became easy to buy bulk food. When Xanterra took the contract, the commitment was to elevate the food quality and the guest experience.”
Now, the menu at Lake McDonald Lodge offers locally sourced food items like Wagyu beef, farm-raised Columbia River steelhead fish and vegetables.
“The craft of this story is to integrate the individual stories of the wineries and the food with the guest experience in Glacier Park,” Vogel said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.