Whereas many court a relationship with wine, Will Motley admits he stumbled into the romance.
Motley moved to Nashville on a whim after college with visions of sculpting a career as a charcoal artist. To pay the bills, he joined a buddy behind the counter of a wine shop selling bottles of bubbly and regional reds, and at night, he drew.
Gradually, however, Motley's passion for wine eclipsed his desire to make art.
Then, a chance conversation struck up with a California wine maker heralded his life’s next step.
“The owner of Kenwood winery was on a marketing tour in Nashville. We talked, and he said he’d be happy to give me a job at harvest, but he couldn't promise me anything afterward,” Motley said. “That was enough of an opportunity to pack up the car and move out to California. I think for a lot of people who really get into wine, the wine-making side of it really has a romantic feel, and I was at that point in my life where it sounded like the greatest thing ever.”
The backbreaking, grueling hours spent shoveling grape skins out of fermentation tanks, running presses and filling barrels only fueled Motley’s interest — and caught the attention of the winery owner. As more and more responsibility was thrown at him, Motley mastered the work. At the end of the three-month harvest season, the North Carolina native was made a full-time cellar worker.
For three years, he worked at the Kenwood Winery learning every step of the process that begins with a grape and ends with a corked bottle of wine.
When Motley’s wife, Mary, gave birth to their second child, the family of four relocated back to Nashville to be near family as well as old friends who were also starting families. The move also gave Motley the opportunity to bring his wine career full circle.
Last fall, he opened Woodland Wine Merchant in East Nashville's Five Points. To the wine connoisseur, he was beginning a venture that he hoped he could grow old with, but to the residents of 37206, he was opening the neighborhood's first wine shop dedicated to stocking its shelves with quality, researched wines.
“I had thought if I ever opened up a wine shop, East Nashville would be the place to do it. I love the energy, the sense of community, the sense of adventure, and the anything-goes sense of attitude. I had thought the neighborhood had changed so much yet some of their needs weren’t being met,” Motley said. “I thought a boutique wine shop would go over well here because I feel like wine is such a big part of people’s lives right now. People want to drink good wine. There are some good stores over here where you can buy liquor, but I thought we could do something a little different where the focus is on the wine instead.”
What was your first memorable experience with wine?
My parents, as I was growing up, didn’t drink much wine, so I'd say it was my sophomore year of college. I spent a semester in Rome. I saw how integral wine was in the fabric of life over there. There's a connotation — you think of Italy and you think of wine and food. I realized how true that notion is and certainly tried a lot of wine while I was there.
What would I find in your wine rack at home?
Usually something with bubbles. I've been drinking a lot of gruner veltliner. It's a white wine from Austria, and I think it has some qualities I don't think you find in other wines. They are incredibly rich, very vibrant, great acidity — so much going on in it. I've been drinking a lot of Auratus Alvarinho. Domaine Mardon Quincy is a sauvignon blanc with this great mineral-y element that I am really attracted to. De Villaine Bourgogne Les Clous — I think this one has a tremendous amount of class and complexity at a price I don't think you typically can get all that.
Which are the favorites of your wife, Mary?
Can Blau. She says it’s yummy. It’s definitely a fuller-bodied, drier red wine that has earthy elements and deep, dark red fruit flavors. Also, Chateau de la Chesnaie. Mary likes dry, crisp white wines that don't have any oak.
White or red?
White. It’s a little more refreshing as a cocktail in the evening and more versatile with meals.
What is your advice for picking the perfect bottle of wine?
Develop a relationship with your wine retailer whether it's this store or another. We get to look at so many different wines and put them in some kind of context. If you have a relationship and can tell what you like and what you haven't liked, they can recommend things that will suite your tastes. Also, they can encourage you to try new things. Sometimes people approach buying wine with too much anxiety. I think if you talk about what the wine is for, for example a specific meal or to go with a certain cheese, etc., it makes it easier for us to make recommendations. I think it can be rewarding to have that relationship. Already here, I am starting to get to know what people like and don’t like. When we get something new in, I can say, “Hey, we just got this new wine in and I think it will really be up your alley.” That's the fun part — being able to recommend something you know they will love.
Does a bottle’s price reflect the quality of the wine?
I don’t think that is always the case. In this store, we try to make sure that the $20 bottle of wine does taste better than the $9 bottle of wine. I think it should. You should get more if you are paying for more. Whether it’s a $9 bottle or a $20 bottle, it should be a really great value for what it is. That’s sort of the fun of it and the struggle of it. You want the $9 bottle that drinks like a $15 bottle, and the $20 bottle that drinks like a $30 bottle of wine. But whether they are spending $10 or $20, we want that bottle to be interesting and emblematic of where it comes from and the grape it is made from. I think there are a lot of wines being made all over the world that are a commodity. It’s a beverage. The uniqueness of where it’s grown doesn’t come through in what you are drinking. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to find wines that deliver that something extra.
Cork versus screw top?
I think there is a certain romance pulling the cork out of the bottle. With that being said, I think that for most wines being sold today, the screw top makes way more sense. Most wine will be drank the day it was purchased or the next day, and the screw top does the job — it seals the bottle, and you don't worry about having a bad bottle of wine. Many people don’t realize that a bad cork can ruin a bottle of wine. So, instead of people realizing it was a bad cork, they think it wasn’t a good wine, when it really doesn’t reflect at all on the winery or the wine. With the screw top, you get a closure that works perfectly and you completely eliminate having “off” bottles of wine.
If you were stuck on a deserted island with one case of wine, what would it be?
I love champagne. I also really like the white wines from Austria. They are very rich yet race-y, vibrant, nuanced. They have a rare combination of power and elegance. And, I really love so many Italian reds. Barolo is a favorite.
What wine would you never drink?
The saying, “Life is too short to drink bad wine” comes to mind. White zinfandel is probably not so much for me.
Any wine bottle horror stories?
Once when camping we had to poke the cork into the bottle to open it. That shows our ingenuity and our fortitude to not be denied.
What would be your last bottle of wine?
I think it would be a great bottle of champagne. Krug or Salon. I can’t think of a better way to go out.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Oysters and Chablis.
If you weren’t a wine merchant, what would be your dream job?
I would grow grapes and be a wine maker in some little corner of Italy or France. Or, a cowboy.
What would I find in your CD player?
I like the new Radiohead album [In Rainbows] a lot. And Andrew Bird. But really, Tyler [Zwiep] and Courtney [Wilder] who work here, they seize control of the CD player the second they come in. Courtney used to DJ at WRVU [91.1 FM, Vanderbilt's student radio station].
What is a little known fact about yourself?
Answered by Motley’s wife, Mary: He’s a great cook. And, he’s obsessed with cookbooks and ingredients. He reads cookbooks as a form of entertainment. I’ve had phone calls, “Mr. Motley, your duck fat is in.”
Woodland Wine Merchant
1001 Woodland St.