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As Woodland Wine Merchant approaches its 10th anniversary, founder and owner Will Motley feels ready to face the future. Motley, who has worked in the wine industry since his college graduation, decided to open his own retail store while working for a Nashville wholesaler about 15 years ago.
“I had seen what other stores were doing in the market: what they were doing well and where I thought that opportunity lay,” Motley says. He deliberately chose East Nashville as the location for his store, feeling that the neighborhood would be appreciative and understanding of what he wanted to accomplish.
“The idea for the store was we were going to focus on small producers that I felt were underrepresented in this market,” Motley explains. “People would come in and look at our shelves and say, ‘I don’t recognize a single label in this store.’”
He continues, “On the one hand, that was what we wanted, but, on the other hand, that was the nervousness: Are they going to go to the store down the street with the brands that everybody knows? We thought that East Nashville, as a neighborhood, would be willing to go on this journey with us.” Motley says that, despite his faith in the neighborhood, he was anxious on his store’s first day. He wondered if anyone would come—and was awash in relief and delight when they did.
“Our customers were very excited to try new things and to trust our recommendations,” Motley says. “It’s been so exciting for everyone at the store, that we’re able to focus on these small producers and that the neighborhood has been willing to branch out and try new things, new grapes, wines from regions and countries that they weren’t familiar with.”
In the 10 years since the store’s inception, Motley has witnessed a number of changes in the market. For example, he says he can now access small importers that weren’t available 10 years ago. Woodland Wine Merchant also faces new challenges, especially the passage of wine in grocery stores. “It has really pushed us to be the store that is recognized for working with these small producers,” Motley says. “Most grocery stores are working on the 50, 100 top-selling brands. Those wines, while there are certainly some good ones out there, aren’t really where our interests lie. We really want to work with small producers that are connected to the vineyards they’re farming, connected to the history of the region they’re working in. Ninth, 10th, 12th-generation—the connection that comes with that—that’s what interests me about wine, certainly one aspect of it anyway.”
Another challenge is the growing popularity of wine ordered online and shipped into the state by companies like Amazon. But Motley is still optimistic.
“We’re just going to have to focus on what makes the store unique, the experience that customers have when they come to the store, building relationships with our customers … [and] in making the store successful and a vibrant part of the community for another 10 years.”
1001 Woodland St, 615-228-3311; woodlandwinemerchant.com