When Will Motley opened Woodland Wine Merchant in 2007, Nashville wasn’t exactly a destination for small-production wines. In fact, the city wasn’t all that welcoming to the idea either, with tight retail regulations that didn’t even allow for shops to offer their customers in-store tastings. Ten years later, things have changed. East Nashville is now one of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods, and tastings are not only allowed but have become a primary vehicle for Motley and his team to spread the story about their wines. The one constant: Motley’s focus on family-owned domestic producers, as well as labels from small importers and estates around the world.
Motley stumbled into the wine world when he found work in a wine shop in Nashville after college. He later moved to California to work in production at Kenwood Vineyards for several years before returning to the South. When he opened Woodland, the neighborhood quickly latched on. “There seems to be a sense of adventure with our customers,” says Motley. “They’re willing to try unfamiliar waters. They aren’t scared by grapes they’ve never heard of or wines from far-flung regions.”
The rest of Nashville has caught up with imports, too, thanks to the now booming restaurant scene. As more wine directors, sommeliers, and buyers are filling their lists with small producers, boutique importers like Zev Rovine and Savio Soares are willing to send selections from their portfolios to the market. “These guys don’t have a lot of wine to sell, so being in Nashville wasn’t essential for them until recently,” Motley says. “It took stores like us and a number of restaurants telling them that the thirst for those wines is here.”
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Here, Motley discusses six wines from his shop that he thinks deserve more attention.
2016 Broc Cellars Sparkling Wine ($28)
“Chris Brockway [who makes his wines in Berkeley, California] first came to the store maybe six or seven years ago, and he was one of the first people I met who seemed to be on a different vector in terms of his vision. The wines were fresh and vibrant, spicy, and energetic, and I immediately fell in love. This is his sparkling version of Chenin Blanc, done in a pétillant naturel style—it’s such a good springtime-in-Tennessee wine, sort of lightly effervescent, and like all his wines, it has this crackling energy.”
2014 Domaine Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny ($28)
“Philippe Tessier’s wines are farmed organically and biodynamically, and the wines ferment naturally. He’s not adding enzymes or any agents, but the wines are super clean, well made, and very much speak to the grape variety. In this case it’s Romorantin, which is only grown in a tiny pocket in the Loire Valley, ￼in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny. It’s spicy with this almost honeyed, beeswax-y quality. Texturally, it has some richness and fullness to it but doesn’t lack for acidity at all.”
NV Denavolo Catavela ($25)
“This one is made by Giulio Armani, who is in Emilia-Romagna. He’s the winemaker at one of the more famous Italian natural wineries, called La Stoppa, and this is a side project of his. I felt that maybe the trend of orange wines was fading a little, but in the last few months there’s been a renewed excitement in this market. I think this is a great option to introduce people to those types of wines. There’s a charming aromatic, floral, very expressive quality about this one that I think is a great way to ease people into that world.”
2015 Jean-Paul Thévenet Vieilles Vignes Morgon ($33)
“One thing that has been pointed out to me is that we probably have more Beaujolais than our customers ask us to carry. But I’ve always loved the wines, and even though the prices have crept up over the years, they still offer pretty amazing value. There is a certain exuberance to the 2015 vintage that’s not typical. The wines are definitely a little bit riper and fuller, whereas some vintages are a little more restrained and austere. Jean-Paul Thévenet’s wines were some of the very first examples of Beaujolais that I tried when I was just getting into wine, and they’ve really stuck with me.”
2014 Shelter Lovely Lilly Pinot Noir ($18)
“When I first tried this German Pinot Noir, I was really struck by what a fantastic bottle of wine it was. Lovely Lilly is a value-oriented Pinot from Shelter Winery, a very small operation of husband-and-wife Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf. The wine was named after their cellar dog Lilly [who sadly passed away in 2014]. What I like about this wine is that even at this price point you recognize their attention and commitment. Very balanced, low alcohol, great acidity, silky texture, spicy. This wine is such a killer value. There are certainly some great Pinot Noirs coming out of Baden, Germany, and it seems like they keep getting better and better.”
2015 Franck Balthazar Côtes du Rhône ($26)
“Franck Balthazar inherited some very notable vineyards in Cornas—from which he makes his top wines. But at $70, those are occasion wines for a lot of our customers. So I’m excited that we were able to bring in this Côtes du Rhône, which is cut from the same cloth. You can feel that line between them. The wines are powerful, but they have this silkiness and class that I find really captivating.”
Erin Byers Murray is a food and drinks writer and author based in Nashville, TN.