by Tyler Morrison

When did the American people decide as a culture to stop toasting things? Watching any old-timey movie, or reading any classic book, I get the impression that our forefathers knew how to mark an occasion. Kid got accepted into college? “I’ll get the champagne!” Promotion at work? “Break out the bubbly!” Find a sweet, unmetered parking spot? “Drinks all around!”

I can’t help but wonder if we have less opportunities to celebrate, or if we moved the bar for what was worthy of celebration. Asking around, I find that people seem to be a little intimidated by champagne. Even for people who know their way around a wine rack, champagne seems a little more exotic and unapproachable than the normal varieties of grown-up grape juice. However, approached with a little know-how and open mindedness, sparkling wines can be  a welcome guest to any celebration.

Champagne, in true French tradition, follows a lot of rules. True champagne can only be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and following rules that require, among other things, secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation, specific vineyard practices, sourcing of grapes exclusively from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation (read: region) and specific pressing regimes unique to the region. While many use the term Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine, in many countries it is illegal to officially label any product Champagne unless it both comes from the Champagne region and is produced under the rules of the appellation.

That being said, there are a litany of high quality sparkling wines that should never be scoffed at. The viticultural and winemaking practices of making sparkling wines have many similarities to the production of traditional wines with some distinct differences. At the vineyard, grapes are harvested early when there is still high acid levels. Unlike still wine production, high sugar levels are not ideal and grapes destined for sparkling wine production may be harvested at higher yields. Care is taken to avoid tannins and other phenolic compounds with many premium producers still choosing to harvest by hand rather than risk mechanical harvesting which may split the berries and encourage maceration between the skins and juice. This process encourages, primarily, subtle flavors and aromas that make sparkling wines so darn good and pairing with other flavors. High acid content and softer perfume qualities make sparklers an easy going friend, and one who tends to get along with everyone.

Now that we know a little about what makes sparkling wine so special, what is the best way to go about indulging ourselves?

Contrary to popular belief, the best way to enjoy champagne is in a white wine glass. A white wine glass's larger bowl enables the wine to open up in the glass, allowing you to better enjoy all the aromas and to savor the complexity of the champagne. Traditional champagne flutes are perfect for showcasing champagne's stream of bubbles, but their narrow shape limits the drinker's experience of aromas and flavors.

Another common misconception about champagne is to leave it in the fridge. If you're planning to enjoy your bottle of champagne immediately (within 3 or 4 days after buying it) storing it in the refrigerator is fine. But if it sits there for weeks the cork can dry out as refrigerators are also de-humidifiers. As corks dry out, the seal between the bottle and the cork loosen up and the champagne will oxidize faster, changing its aromas. Instead, keep it in a cool place in your home, away from any light, and where the temperature is consistent.

Once you're ready to enjoy your champagne, the best way to chill your bottle is to fill an ice bucket with ice and one-third water and allow your bottle to cool for 15-20 minutes. Bonus points for awesome presentation. Also, remember to hold your glass by the stem and not by the bowl because your hands will warm the champagne up too quickly. (Also, holding the glass by the stem will make you look like you’re an old hand at bubbly.)

Don't be afraid to experiment with food pairings! Oysters and caviar are fantastic with champagne, and more casual foods like french fries, fried chicken and cheese are equally delicious with Champagne! Champagne loves oily, salty and fatty foods as they bring out the wine's fruitiness and freshness, so foods like burgers, tacos, BBQ sauce, and lobster are exciting new pairings to try that champagne connoisseurs have been enjoying for years!

If you have a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator, don't wait for a special occasion to enjoy it. You will see that by opening that bottle, the special occasion will come to you.


January 11, 2017

Helena – The Montana Department of Revenue is mailing livestock reporting forms this week to Montanans who own livestock and need to meet upcoming reporting and payment deadlines.

About 18,500 livestock owners who reported last year will receive reporting forms. All livestock owners need to report by March 1, 2017, any livestock they owned as of February 1. Livestock owners can file online at or submit the hardcopy form.

Livestock owners who have not reported in the past need to report online or fill out a reporting form available from or their local Department of Revenue office.

Livestock per capita fees are due May 31. Livestock owners who do not pay their per capita fees when they report will receive their bill in early May with payment due May 31, 2017.

“The department wants to make it more convenient for livestock owners to report their livestock and pay their fees,” said Director Mike Kadas, Montana Department of Revenue. “The online system is efficient and secure, which makes it easier for livestock owners to do business in Montana.”

 For more information, visit or call toll free 1-866-859-2254, in Helena 444-6900.

Big Sky Connection



Eric Tegethoff

January 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and Montana is not immune to the crime often referred to as modern-day slavery. Human trafficking involves labor or sex slavery and can leave victims physically and emotionally scarred.

Although overall numbers are small, the Montana Department of Justice reports the state rescued five juveniles in 2016, compared with just one in 2015. The state also rescued 22 adults from trafficking, an 83-percent increase over the previous year.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says the number of cases has gone up in the past year.

"It's a troubling thing that people would do this kind of crime," he lamented. "It's a heinous crime. We're going to try to stop it as best we can, but we need our Montana citizens to help us out."

Fox encourages people to contact law enforcement if they see signs of trafficking, such as a person who is living with his or her employer or someone who doesn't have an ID, since traffickers typically take a person's identification.

On Wednesday, the traveling portrait exhibit "Faces of Freedom: Voices Calling for the End of Modern-Day Slavery" is in Helena to raise awareness about trafficking. The exhibit also will make stops in Billings, Kalispell and Missoula.

This week, the website shut down a section of its website that had been used for sex trafficking and other crimes. The classified ad website is known for advertising escorts and other illegal adult services, and a 2016 Senate report said Backpage officials acknowledged it was a hub for sex trafficking, especially of minors.

Fox says law enforcement has used these websites against traffickers, but he doubts that just because a website such as Backpage is shut down, trafficking will be shut down with it.

"Unfortunately, what we suspect may happen is it will drive that illegal criminal business to some other area of the internet," he said. "So we'll continue to watch these developments as they happen."

Fox is concerned the governor's proposed budget cuts to the state's Department of Criminal Investigations and Highway Patrol could hinder the campaign against human trafficking.

January 10, 2017

BILLINGS, MT – Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society (YVAS) is inviting science classes, Scout troops, and other student and youth groups to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 17-20, 2017.  Participants simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds seen for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.  They can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as they wish.

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.  The Great Backyard Bird Count is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a snapshot of bird populations by reporting sightings online at 

Participants new to the count are directed at to create a free online account to enter their checklists.  During the count, they can explore what others are seeing in this area or around the world.  They can share their bird photos by entering the photo contest, or enjoy images pouring from across the globe. 

YVAS is encouraging students and youths to hop on board for complete information about this event to join in the fun.

For further information about YVAS and this event, visit its website at or contact Steve Regele at (406)962-3115 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.