Tim Nodland of Spokane’s Nodland Cellars always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up but it wasn’t a winemaker. “I decided I was going to be a lawyer in the fourth grade,” Nodland says matter-of-factly. While Nodland is indeed now a practicing attorney, his journey to winemaking lawyer might never have happened if it weren’t for Kurt Cobain and company.
Nodland’s detour from a law career began when he was a teenager. “When I was seventeen I saw this Fender Telecaster hanging in the window at a shop in Spokane,” Nodland recalled. “My life changed at that moment.”
Nodland took all of his lawn mowing money, got his father to co-sign for him, and bought the guitar. Soon he was in a band touring all around the west coast. “I played Denver, Anchorage, LA and everyplace in between,” he said. Here Nodland adds with his ever-present laugh and sense of humor, “The prettiest girls were in Coeur d’Alene and Boise, so that’s where we liked to play the most.”
This was a different time in America. “That was my generation’s entertainment,” Nodland said of making music and going to shows. “There weren’t smart phones and computers and all that back then. What you did for fun on the weekend was you went to a club or a concert and saw a rock band.”
Nodland was in what was affectionately referred to as a hair band. “The bigger the better,” Nodland said of the style. “As big as you could get it.” Alas, Nodland’s professional music career wasn’t meant to be. However, it wasn’t video that killed this rock and roll star. It was grunge.
“Kurt Cobain and the whole Seattle scene tubed my band,” Nodland said forlornly. “It made hair bands with spandex obsolete.” After working briefly as a talent agent, disappointed and disillusioned, Nodland turned away from the world of music. “I put my guitar away and didn’t play for nine years,” he said.
Instead, he refocused on his childhood dream of becoming a lawyer. After graduating with a law degree from Gonzaga, Nodland turned his full attention to his practice, where he works to protect consumers from insurance companies. While a different career from music, Nodland says that the are some similarities.
“My audience wasn’t a concert; it was 12 jurors,” Nodland said. Still, as time went on, he felt that something was missing. “I became so creatively starved,” he said. “I was crabby and unhappy.” Here he pauses to comedic effect before saying with a laugh, “That’s how the wine business came about. I was a frustrated musician!”
Nodland had his winemaking ‘Aha!’ moment while visiting relatives in California. Several of his family members were making wine in carboys, and Nodland was hooked by the idea. When his brother-in-law in Walla Walla, who works as a vineyard consultant, said simply, “Want me to get you some grapes?” Nodland’s wine adventure had begun.
Like many home winemakers, Nodland started modestly. “In 1999 we made the first batch of Cabernet in my driveway,” he recalled. Nodland is self-taught. While he briefly considered studying winemaking at UC Davis, Nodland decided to teach himself after going to see the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’.
“Matt Damon’s character says to the guy at Harvard, ‘You paid 200 grand to have somebody to tell you what books to buy and what chapters to read, and I got a library card,’” Nodland recalls. “That spoke to me. So I became an avid reader.”
In 2005, Nodland bonded Nodland Cellars and rented a facility in an industrial complex in Spokane. “It had taken over my house,” Nodland explained as to why he started the winery. His first commercial wine from that vintage was a blend of all six Bordeaux varieties, including the seldom seen Carménère.
Get Nodland talking about Carménère and his passion for it is immediately apparent, as he enthusiastically talks about the grape’s history from its Roman days to the present. While Nodland waxes about Chilean Carménère, he believes that the grape is at its best right here in Washington State – and not just anywhere.
“I think Seven Hills Carménère is the best Carménère in the planet – and I’m not trying to exaggerate or anything,” he said. “When I drink Seven Hills Carménère, it’s so elegant, beautiful and sophisticated. There’s nothing like it.” Nodland has made a varietally designated bottling since the 2007 vintage called Avant Garde.
Unlike most winemakers, Nodland varies his production somewhat dramatically from year to year. In the warm 2009 vintage, he made 900 cases. In the cool 2011 vintage, he made a mere 150 cases – all of it Carménère.
“I’m not in this to make good wine,” he explained. “If I don’t have every chance to make a great wine, then I’m not going to do it.” And Nodland is indeed making great wine, with each of the wines below of very high quality. Much of the fruit comes from Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards and, considering the pedigree and the quality that’s in the bottle, these wines each present a lot of value, particularly the Bad Attitude (a high quality Walla Walla Valley red wine for $15?!?).
For Nodland, who is back to playing music but is now focused more on jazz than rock, winemaking has provided a critical creative outlet. “This is an art and not a business,” he said. “I have a job. The day that the winery becomes a job I quit!”
Nodland Cellars Bad Attitude Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $15
(Excellent) Fairly light in color, it’s an aromatically appealing wine with notes of coffee, cherry, and chocolate. The palate is ripe and fleshy while still retaining a sense of deftness and elegance. Seven Hills Vineyard. 15% alcohol.
Nodland Cellars Private Blend Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $28
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of char, toast, cedar and cherry followed by high toned herbal notes. The palate is soft and sumptuous with a velvety feel. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon (Pepper Bridge), 18% Malbec, 9% Merlot, 8% Cab Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Carménère. 14.5% alcohol.
Nodland Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009 $38
(Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with cedar, oak spices, cherry, and dried herbs. The palate is full bodied and high octane with chocolaty flavors and a warm finish. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon (Pepper Bridge) and 10% Petit Verdot (Seven Hills). 15% alcohol.
Nodland Cellars Avant Garde Carménère Walla Walla Valley 2009 $24
(Excellent) The grape’s often green nature is well tamed here with plum and baking spices accenting Carménère’s natural cracked pepper and herbal notes. It’s soft, plush, and palate coating in feel. 100% Carménère. Seven Hills Vineyard. 14.5% alcohol.