(Photo courtesy of Cloudlift Cellars)
By David Hirning & Ann-Marie Stillion
As a maker of fine furniture, Tom Stangeland has sold his wares at many art and craft shows. But at the twenty-fourth annual Best of the Northwest art and fine crafts show, held November 16th through 18th in Seattle, he’ll be offering a different kind of fine craft: wines from his family-owned winery, Cloudlift Cellars.
The switch from woodworking to wine reinforces the natural connection between artist and winemaker. “The processes are pretty similar,” Stangeland says. “In both cases you start with the best possible ingredients. It takes good materials, and having a good plan. Then you put it together with a modicum of common sense and you can come up with something really nice.”
Based in Seattle, Cloudlift is one of 15 family wineries from the state of Washington that will be pouring their wines at Best of the Northwest, which will take place at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal on Pier 91. Just as the festival celebrates the spirit of the individual artist and craftsperson, with 250 of the region’s finest represented, it also offers the chance for some of state’s top small wineries to put their “art in a glass” on display.
Art and wine are frequent companions, with many a glass served at gallery openings and other art events. But making wine is itself an intricate, complex process with plenty of opportunities for creativity. Perhaps, as Tim Narby of Seattle’s :Nota Bene Cellars observes, it’s not a coincidence that the word often used for our sense of taste (“palate”) is pronounced the same as the word that refers to a range of colors, such as a painter would use (“palette”).
“There is an art to blending varieties,” says Narby, who does a lot of blending in producing his winery’s 1,000 cases of wine annually, including 12 different wines in the 2009 vintage. “Different flavors come from different sources. I do 25 different fermentations. You’re constantly making decisions that will affect the taste of the wine.”
Stangeland agrees. “A lot of artistry comes in the blending,” he notes. “Every vintage is different, and a lot of little things play into it.”
The fact that he and Narby can call the shots at their small wineries means that they have the freedom to experiment. “The wines shouldn’t be identical every year,” says Stangeland, who bottled his first professional vintage in 2009. “The variables are always changing. There’s always something to be learned—every year brings new things.”
The Washington state wine industry has experienced a population explosion in the last decade. A recent story in the Seattle Times noted that there are now more than 770 licensed wineries in the state, more than double the 360 that existed just seven years ago. It credited such amazing growth during tough economic times to the high number of small wineries, which can make cost-conscious adjustments (such as self-distribution) easier than the bigger operations can.
The “do-it-yourself” marketing mentality is another way that small winemakers are similar to artists and craftspeople. People enjoy meeting and talking with the person who actually made the product, rather than just buying something off a store shelf. Bringing their wines to shows such as Best of the Northwest is a great way for small winemakers such as Stangeland and Narby to connect with new customers and educate the public about the fruits of their labors.
“You strike up a relationship and people want to support you,” says Stangeland of being able to meet his customers at events like Best of the Northwest. “It’s an interactive thing—people can talk directly to the winemaker and ask their questions, just like they can with an artist. They can have a vicarious winemaking experience through talking to me.”
Artists and winemakers both have to face the realities of the marketplace says Narby, who has been making wine since 2001. “Just like with art, if you don’t sell your wine, you don’t get the opportunity to make more,” he notes. “We face some of the same issues. And if we’re really happy with our results, it’s hard for us to stop.”
Both winemakers say that it helps to have family involved. :Nota Bene’s website lists Tim’s wife, Carol Bryant, as “CFO, corporate counsel, and name partner” and also credits their two children with roles in the business.
Stangeland’s wife and three children are also involved in Cloudlift Cellars, helping with everything from bottling to crushing to updating the winery website. A few weeks before Best of the Northwest, he was just finishing up the last pressing of the year. A recent knee injury meant that his middle son did all the work while he supervised. All part of life with a family business.
Along with Cloudlift Cellars and :Nota Bene Cellars, the other wineries that will be at Best of the Northwest are Castillo de Feliciana, Convergence Zone Cellars, Frenchman Hills Winery, Gecko Cellars, Ginkgo Forest Winery, Lost River Winery, Michael Florentino Cellars, Northwest Totem Cellars, Stinas Cellars, Stomani Cellars & Winery, Willis Hall, and Wilridge Winery—all members of Family Wineries of Washington State.
Seattle’s largest indoor juried art and fine craft show and one of two “Top 100” shows in the state, Best of the Northwest is a kaleidoscope of art, music, craft, performance and regional wines. For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, please visit www.nwartalliance.com.
Best of the Northwest art and fine craft show, Nov. 16-18 is located at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, Pier 91, 2001 West Garfield St., Seattle. Join us Friday & Saturday 10-6, Sunday 10-5 for the best shopping, best music, best wine and entertainment to kick off the holiday season while supporting many local artists, small businesses, and a worthy charity, Seattle Children’s Hospital.