The Nectar Wine Bar in downtown Spokane

The Nectar Wine Bar in downtown Spokane

La Dolce Vita: New opportunities abound in the wine industry

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I’m a big fan of innovative thinking in the wine industry, where new approaches add economic development value to communities.

My first thoughts on the topic immediately jump to Walla Walla, Wash., which we have visited a couple of times in recent years. Incubator wineries, airport development and about two dozen tasting rooms in the downtown core have all been the result of careful planning by the public, private and academic sectors.

In Summerland, the Okanagan Crush Pad has given small startups the chance to gain entry into the very costly wine business by offering a complete range of services. The early results have been remarkable.

In Spokane recently, we got another look at how wineries can introduce wines and expand their markets.

Nectar Tasting Room, downtown on Stevens, is a partnership of sorts. While the owner is a young blogger and wine enthusiast, we learned on our visit that the building’s rent is paid by five wineries that supply the tasting room with wine. Wines on-site are part of each winery’s inventory until they are sold.

Spokane’s downtown core, like those of most North American cities, has had its challenges over the years. Shopping malls and big box stores have drawn away a huge percentage of people, lured by selection and free and easy parking.

The city is fortunate to have a terrific park just to the north of the downtown core, where an exposition many years ago left a legacy of facilities and green space. Falls on the river, created to generate electricity, are also a great attraction. A downtown mall, several large hotels and a vibrant entertainment industry have helped to draw people back to the city. Renovations to treasures of old, like the Davenport Hotel, the Fox Theater and the steam plant have show the region has entrepreneurs who are keen on the city and the opportunities that exist.

Several wineries have chosen to locate in Spokane’s inner city and Nectar is not the only wine bar in the area. It’s the partnership of five distinct wineries that make it unique:

•Anelare is a small, family owned winery in Kennewick;

•Hard Row to Hoe, whose label and marketing plan was created by Vancouver’s Bernie Hadley-Beauregard (of Blasted Church, Laughing Stock and Dirty Laundry fame), is a Lake Chelan winery;

•The highly acclaimed Northwest Cellars is in Kirkland;

•Walla Walla is the home of Skylite Cellars, which is owned by a former radio guy and his wife; and

•Finally, Terra Blanca Winery calls Benton City home, where its Red Mountain vineyard takes advantage of heat and higher altitudes.

Visitors to Nectar can buy wine by the glass or bottle or, as we did with friends who introduced us to the place, pay $5 to sample five different wines. The sample fee is waved with purchases.

There are more than 40 different wines available, so recurring visits will offer new tasting selections, which are changed regularly.

We enjoyed our tasting, which included surprises. Our first, a Sauvignon Blanc, did not taste like a Sauv Blanc from cooler climates like the Okanagan or New Zealand. In fact, I thought it tasted more like a Viognier, which, coincidentally, was our second taste, albeit a blend.

The unquestioned highlight was a red blend from Northwest Cellars called Intrigue. Silky smooth and very full-bodied, this was a $40 wine in a $28 bottle. Northwest also makes a Malbec and Carmenere and I look forward to sampling those on another visit.

A 2009 Zinfandel from Hard Row to How was also a surprise, not being the typical fruit bomb that one gets in most American bottles. The Zin is not listed on the winery website — but a 2010 Primitivo is. Maybe there is a story in there somewhere as Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same grape.

Since our visit, I’ve been wondering if this winery partnership model for a tasting room/wine bar can work in B.C., or even Alberta. Wouldn’t it be great, for instance, to walk into a nice wine bar in a city and find a complete selection of Naramata Bench, for example, wines available?

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.