FINLEY POINT — Picture this -- you're relaxing outside, the sun is shining, and you're looking out at a beautiful vineyard. You've even got a glass of local wine in hand but you’re not in Napa – you are right here in Montana.
And if one grape-grower has his way, we'll soon enjoy more wine, produced right at home. Right now, two-thirds of Montana’s 17 wineries use fruit from other states and Montana only boasts a few dozen acres of grapes.
But Larry Robertson – who runs a small vineyard and makes wine in his Polson home -- says viticulture could be vital to Treasure State tourism -- and the economy.
“I realized several years ago, and I started talking about it, that we’re gonna raise the highest quality cold hardy grapes in the world,” Robertson told MTN News.
He’s got his hybrid grapes that can handle Montana's frigid winters -- plus, less rain means less fungus growth.
Still not convinced grapes even grow on Finley Point along the shores of Flathead Lake?
“I’m a soil scientist. I’ve known for years these grapes are going to do well here. We just have to put the work in,” Robertson said. That’s where viticulture specialist Tim Weber comes in.
Thanks to a recent grant from the USDA and the Montana Department of Agriculture he travels the state, using science to help grape growers raise the best crop possible.
Robertson believes they can recreate what's happened in other states. An independent study done in Iowa in 2008 found the full economic impact of wine and vineyards in the Hawk Eye State totaled more than $200 million
Dana Bernadinis of D. Berardinis Winery is already started. Inspired by her Italian grandfather, she’s made wine for several years -- from Montana grapes, cherries and peaches.
Robertson says that successful grape growers work hard -- spending about 750 hours per acre per year. Getting started can also be pricey with the planting of just one vine costing about $15.