My great grandfather Walter H. Peck came to Montana from Pennsylvania in 1881. He settled near what’s now the town of Roy in central Montana where he and his family began farming and ranching. A year later they opened the first U.S. post office and general store in Roy. Walter intended to call the tiny settlement “Ray” after a relative, but the U.S. Post Office Department returned the approved application with the name Roy after apparently mis-reading Grandad Peck’s handwriting.
The name or place must not have suited him well, so Grandad Peck and his pioneer family later moved about 60 miles from Roy and settled on a ranch near Garneill, Montana in the western foothills of the Big Snowy Mountains. That farm and ranch grew and stayed in the family until the tough agricultural times of the early 1980s.
“The town of Roy (pop. 108) owes its name to a spelling mistake. When Walter H. Peck established a post office on his ranch in 1882, he requested the name Ray in honor of a relative, but someone in the postal department misread it and returned the application with the name Roy.” – from American Profile – Celebrating the American Spirit
The other side of the family, the Fogles, were from strong and stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch who settled in “Dakota” territory. My mom’s dad, R.E. “Tex” Fogle ran away from home when he was eight years old with his older brother who was 10 years old. They went to work (who knows what they did at that age….) for the old Milwaukee Railroad before Grandad Tex met the love of his life, Eunice Clark whose family farmed north of Big Timber. Eunice died of “heart disease” when our mom was nine years old. Grandad Tex farmed east of Judith Gap, bartended in town and later worked in the Milwaukee Railroad’s roundhouse in Harlowton – mainly doing whatever it took to get by during the Depression years.
Mom and Dad met at an early age and later got married just prior to WWII. After Dad’s service in the U.S. Army, Dad and Mom left central Montana and bought a small farm near Pompey’s Pillar. Dad also ran the grain elevators at Pompey’s and nearby Nibbe. He later managed a grain elevator and served as deputy sheriff in Treasure County at Hysham. Our family moved around – living for short times in Washington and Colorado. All along we held close to our farming and ranching roots. I attended college at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, and later graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman with a degree in Agricultural Production. For the most of my career I worked as an agricultural/business journalist — writing feature stories and doing editorial research on agriculture, economics and international trade. My journalism venues ranged from the mountains of western Montana to the desert outback of Australia, the cerrado of Brazil and to the vast cattle country of Argentina’s Pampas region. Meanwhile, I kept my hand in the ranching business with a small herd of cattle raised on a leased ranch in central Montana. Always a day late and a dollar short though, the cattle business just wasn’t in the deck of cards I was dealt.
It’s from those roots that I stand today in Montana.
Grandad and Grandma Peck were said to be quite the teetotalers — as were their children and most of their grandchildren — at least until my dad pried loose a bit from the family tradition! Little could they have known the legacy they’d be leaving as the culture and economy of Montana grew… Long-story short, you can bet they never thought one (or certainly two!) of their great-grandchildren would become a professional winemaker. Frankly, until just a few years ago the notion never came to my mind either. But, after 30-some years of chasing cows, literally and figuratively, I created this winery enterprise — taking the plunge into another area of contemporary American agriculture.
Yellowstone Cellars & Winery selections of red and white grapes grown in Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley vineyards are crushed, fermented, cellared and bottled right here in Billings, Montana. I learned the craft from my brother and sister-in-law, Ken & Jill Peck who owned and made wine at their Dakota Creek Winery, located near Blaine, WA. Their vision, passion for the craft along with finding sources of the best wine grapes necessary in making premium wines is the inspiration and model for Yellowstone Cellars & Winery. Without their help this venture would have been nigh onto impossible.
I want to stress that we produce and market wines crafted from traditional premium vinifera wine grapes stemming from the Old World’s wine regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire, Rhone and Rhine – along with Italy’s Tuscany and Piedmont regions, Spain’s Rioja region. Unfortunately, Montana is not a place a where at this time these wine grape varieties are successfully grown for extensive commercial production.
Yellowstone Cellars is a “bookend” boutique winery — complete with a wine cellar, tasting room and an event area. You can enjoy samples of our releases and experience the art and science of premium wine making. From the 2017 Washington grape crop I harvested about 61,000 lbs. of red and white grapes (see “Our Wine and Grapes”) that we crushed, fermented and began aging here in the winery. We still have about 40 barrels of the 2015 wines and our entire crop of 2016 red wines (100 barrels) are aging in our cellar. You’re welcome to come by any time and check out our cellar – and possibly do some barrel tasting. If you happen on the winery at the right time, you might be treated with an introduction to one or both of my daughters – Sarah Skarsen and Ellen Symington, both living in Missoula, MT with their families.
People often comment that I must have found my passion in life with wine making… True, I enjoy the art and science of the craft. At 64 years of age, it’s probably the final chapter in my working life. But, rest assured I’m have not left my agricultural roots (or cowboy hat) behind. In fact, it’s my great appreciation for how a good Montana beef steak, a brilliant Montana sunset over the foothills, and a glass of fine red wine can enhance our life and our lifestyle. So, please understand that I still am and I always will be a champion of the Western lifestyle and cattle ranching in the West.