Women of Washington Wine: Tracy Nodland of Nodland Cellars

By Kori ~ May 10th, 2010.

Today’s post is part of a series featuring the Women of Washington Wine. In an industry once dominated by men, more and more women are joining the ranks as winery owners, vineyard owners, and winemakers. Being a woman myself, I am fascinated by these women and what they have done and continue to do. Through this series, I hope to introduce you to some of the brightest female faces in the Washington wine industry.

Tracy Nodland and her husband Tim started making wine at home in 1999 and opened Nodland Cellars in 2005. Tracy and Tim are co-owners and co-winemakers. Tracy is an artist and Tim is a musician, and they both view winemaking as more art than science. In fact, they think of wine as liquid art. Located in Spokane, Washington, Nodland Cellars produces one red (400 cases) and one white (30-35 cases) wine each year. Their distinctive jazz band label was designed by Florida-based artist Tim Rogerson.

Recently, Tracy was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me and our Wine Peeps readers.

Highlights from Q&A with Tracy Nodland:

How did you first get involved in the wine business?
Winemaking has been a longtime passion for me, which dates back to the days when my grandfather Giuseppe DeMarco emigrated from Sicily and eventually took up residence in Portland, Oregon. He, along with my great uncles, Louigi and Pesquali, made wine in their basement for many, many years. I’m not sure which was better, the delicious aromas coming from my grandmother’s kitchen or the fantastic scent of fermenting wine seeping up from the basement. Either way, it was a win-win situation.

What were the steps that led to where you are now?
My husband Tim and I have shared a love and a passion for wine for over 20 years. We were seriously bitten by the winemaking “bug” in 1999. While on a trip to California, we met up with my sister at a family reunion. She and her husband were making wine at their house, which got us very excited about the idea. Upon our return to Spokane, we started exploring the fantastic wine regions of Washington that surround us. We investigated the best vineyards, talked with winemakers, and began our education into winemaking. We bought every book on winemaking we could find. I also took classes from the Walla Walla College Viticulture Department, as well as distance courses from the University of California-Davis. So, in 1999, we jumped in with both feet and made our first barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon. The next year, we made three different varieties, the year after that, 5 varieties. With each different vintage we were having a lot of fun experimenting with different types of fermentations, barrel studies, and blending trials. From 1999 to 2004, we made over 65 wines. It is from there we found our real passion for blending. Blending is indeed an art form like no other.

Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
I believe there are advantages and disadvantages to just about anything. As for women in the wine industry, I would say our greatest advantages are our fine-tuned noses and palates. Most women have been given the gift of well-developed senses. We can really use that to our advantage when it comes to winemaking.

What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Best advice: GO FOR IT, LADIES…but be well prepared! Have a well thought out business plan, and before you go commercial, allow yourself the time to polish your winemaking skills and what better way of doing that than by learning from our fellow winemakers. It’s always better to learn from others mistakes as well as their accomplishments. We are blessed with what is one of the finest wine regions in the world. Washington has an abundance of talented winemakers who are more than willing to share their expertise. The winemakers in this state are a fantastic group of people who love to ramble on about winemaking.

In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I am sure it will continue to grow. Although the economy is struggling, people are still drawn to their love of wine. Let’s face it; something has to numb the effects of the economy. Anyway, even though the economy continues to struggle, Washington State has an abundance of fantastic wines for under $35. You certainly can’t say that for every wine region.

How do you and your husband, Tim, divide the duties at the winery?
In the fall, we are both there day and night. Our poor children sometimes forget what we look like from September to November. During the rest of the year, Tim maintains his day job at the office (that is, when he can pull himself away from his guitars.) My job is to maintain the everyday duties of the winery. I top-up barrels, maintain sulfites, run labs, take care of the books, run the tasting room, and all that other crazy stuff. What I really enjoy the most is when the wine we have labored over month after month, year after year, is finally in the bottle. Then Tim and I spend our afternoons visiting all our restaurants, sharing and bragging about our liquid art we’ve captured in the bottle.

I know that you are an artist and describe wine as “liquid art”. Could you share a little bit about your artistic background and how that has influenced your winemaking?
Tim and I both have a love of art. Tim has his guitars and I have my canvases and oils. Our different forms of art were taking us in different places. I couldn’t play a note of music if I tried and Tim couldn’t draw a stick person if his life depended on it. When we discovered our mutual love of wine over 20 years ago, a light went on. This was our form of art that we really came together on. Anyway, Tim is the one who encouraged me to pick up a paintbrush in the first place. He even got me set up with my first art instructor. I tried to argue with him and tell him I didn’t have time, especially since I had just given birth to twins a few months before. But luckily he was persistent and I started painting. Now I can’t seem to stop. My paints are spread all over the house and the winery. I love to paint while I’m working in the tasting room. Why not? Everything I paint has to do with wine.

Each year we get to share our love of art through our wines. Making a Bordeaux-style blend is the best way to do that. I like to think of the blending process as painting. If we just made a Merlot, it would be like throwing red on a canvas. Sure it might look good on a wall, but it might not give you a whole lot to think about. Whereas when we make our “Private Blend,” it is putting lots of layers, colors, and textures on a canvas. It gives you plenty to think about and imagine, especially with a long luscious finish.

What is your vision for the future of Nodland Cellars?
We have quickly developed a wonderful following. There is nothing we like better than to share our love of wine and love of winemaking with our loyal customers. In fact, we rarely ever refer to them as customers; we like to refer to them as friends. Our plan is to keep the winery relatively the same size. We are definitely considered a boutique winery and plan to keep it that way. We are hands-on winemakers, looking to make the highest quality wine we can possibly make; and if we tried to grow too much more, it would be too difficult to maintain quality.

Feel free to share any other thoughts that you believe would be of interest to our readers.
Wine is meant to be fun for everyone to enjoy. No matter what your knowledge of wine is, just enjoy it. Everyone’s palate is different; everyone’s nose is different. If a wine tastes good to you, it is a wine you should enjoy. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Many thanks to Tracy for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her all the best and will be following her work and Nodland Cellars with great interest, and I hope that you will too.

(Photos from Nodland Cellars)

Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine

Reader's Comments

  1. @nectarwine | May 10th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Awesome interview with Tracy. Tim and Tracy are some of the best folks in town. They have such passion for their wine. They have more talent in each of their pinky fingers than most people have in their whole body. Tracy with her art, Tim with his music and both of them together with their wine.

    Really great stuff!

    Glad to see them featured on your site!


  2. Kori | May 11th, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Thanks so much. You are absolutely right. They are wonderful people and very talented in many ways. Cheers!