by CHRISTINA KELLY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or years, Spokane struggled to have enough wineries to attract tourism to the city. Tourists come for many reasons, but a visit to the region's wineries is not generally the top attraction or a destination site.
The landscape is changing however, as two additional wineries have put out a shingle and opened their doors for business. Vintage Hill Cellars has a new downtown location and tasting room at Second and Washington, and Nodland Cellars set up its winery in the Spokane Valley, just north of I-90 off the Pines Street exit. With the two new wineries, the Spokane region now boasts an even dozen wineries to visit, with a few more in the wings waiting to open.
What the two new wineries share is a passion for winemaking and a commitment to join the Spokane Winery Association to further promote Spokane as a place to come and discover not just good wines, but great wines.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f wine were a guitar, Tim Nodland would be playing pure, sweet notes that would linger in the air, totally engage the listener and evoke the type of ardor reserved for great music. He and his wife Tracy are drawn to winemaking as artists -- Tim is a jazz and classical guitarist and Tracy is a painter.
"Winemaking will always be art for us," says Tim, who works as an attorney when he isn't making wine or playing music. "This is not our second job. This is about seeing wine as art and making the very best we can make. It is an expression, like a song, or a painting."
The Nodlands spent years as home winemakers, with 65 batches made since 1999. They were encouraged to submit their homemade wines for judging at the Spokane County Interstate Fair a few years ago and won the top categories. It was at this point that the couple decided to become professional winemakers.
Unlike many winemakers, the Nodlands only plan to offer two wines -- a red and a white.
"Our only goal is to produce one of the very best wines possible," says Tracy, who works daily at the winery while raising three daughters. "To us, wine is like liquid art. It is beautiful to the eye, pleasant to the nose and delights the senses as it enters the mouth. It feeds the soul."
Nodland Cellars' Private Blend is made from 43 percent Merlot, 39 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 9 percent Cabernet Franc, 6 percent Malbec, 3 percent Carmenere and 1 percent Petit Verdot -- all six of the Bordeaux varietals. This wine features dark ripe plum flavors with hints of vanilla, spice and espresso. Over the years of blending trials, the Nodlands know exactly what flavor profiles they want in their wine and think of the blending as their canvas.
Their white wine, called Bebop, is a dry Riesling blended with fruit from two vineyards that has lime and floral notes with a mineral undercurrent. The couple only produced about 25 cases, so this wine disappears quickly.
Tim and Tracy do not have intentions to expand their small winery in the coming years. They are content with the artist's life, making small batches of artisan wines for those who appreciate the nuances and work that go into each barrel and each bottle.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen former state senator Brian Murray lost his reelection bid a few years ago, becoming a winemaker was probably the furthest thing on his mind. His foremost thought was what one does after working in the State Legislature.
Although Murray settled on real estate, both he and his friend, Cody George, were making wine as a hobby in George's basement on the side -- a gathering that both men enjoyed more and more. Although no one said anything at first, it was clear that winemaking was on their minds, especially when so many friends praised the homemade wines and requested bottles to take home.
George, who works as an economic development advisor to the city of Spokane, says his basement was becoming more crowded with wine equipment, carboys, hoses and bottles as the two amateurs honed their winemaking craft. For his master's thesis at Eastern Washington University, he decided to create a winery business plan, which was well received.
"One night on a road trip with Brian, I turned to him and said, 'Let's open up our own winery,' and without much discussion, he said OK," George says, laughing. "He wasn't hard to convince."
The two budding winemakers already had access to good fruit from vineyards in Walla Walla and the Yakima and Columbia valleys from years of winemaking at home. They produced four wines -- a dry Riesling (a one-time production that they will no longer make next year), a Sauvignon Blanc, a Viognier and a dry Merlot Ros & eacute;.
The offerings will increase this year when Vintage Hill adds a 2006 Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to the portfolio. The annual case production is about 600 cases, with the goal of increasing the production to 2,500 cases in the next few years.
Murray and George, both Spokane natives, say helping Spokane become a destination spot for wine tasting is an important goal for the winery and the Spokane Winery Association. Both men recognize the value of critical mass -- to get enough good wineries in the region to draw tourists to Spokane specifically for wine tasting and spending a long weekend touring the facilities.
George says, "It is important for us to make world-class wines and attract tourism to the area."