There is a mural hanging just beyond the bar at Love & Exile that captures everything the winery’s owners hoped to achieve at this hip, East Nashville spot.
The mural is a collection of smashed wine cans that NHL players have shotgunned and then autographed. Most of Carter Hutton’s past teammates with the Blues and Sabres are on that wall. Alex Pietrangelo is on that wall. Jack Eichel is on it twice. Some of Hutton’s current Coyotes teammates may have joined the wall this weekend. Arizona had an off day in Nashville after playing the Predators on Saturday, before flying to St. Louis on Monday.
Love & Exile majority owner Tyler Alkins calls the mural the Indecent Wall of Shame. The indecent part comes from the brand of wines in those particular cans, but the full name works on multiple levels.
“Normally, guys stick to rosé when they’re trying to make the wall,” Hutton said. “But Zach Bogosian, this big, brute defenseman and a good man, shotgunned a cab(ernet), so that was something I had never seen before.
“There are some great stories I could tell you, but I try not to share too many details, just in case we don’t play very well.”
Alkins and Hutton met while Hutton was playing for the Predators (2013-16). Alkins had relocated from his hometown of Vancouver. After selling off a manufacturing facility that he had acquired, Alkins was looking for a new venture and he needed a work visa to stay in the United States. It was either debt collection service or wine.
“The margins are really strong in debt collection, but it’s such a miserable job,” Alkins said. “Every day is a bad day. You basically have a telecenter with guys calling every day to collect debt and it’s really shady. Why would I do that? It’s just so stupid and greedy. I figured I might as well do something I love.
“That’s where the name Love & Exile came from. I wanted to do something I love and I didn’t want to get deported. My family had made wine on an amateur level and I thought it would be cool to have an urban winery in Nashville and travel to learn about wines in some of the most attractive vacation areas.”
Hutton had some background in real estate from a series of holdings back in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, so the two, along with former NHL defenseman Kevin Klein, purchased a high-end auto body shop (Aston Martins, Ferraris and Lamborghinis) in 2017, and the winery was ready the following year.
Alkins spent research time in France and Chile, learning everything about the wine-making process and within the first year, Nashville Urban Winery and Love & Exile were hot tickets, distributing regionally and growing exponentially. They were one of the top-selling canned-wine companies in the nation, and they were appealing to a demographic that the wine industry had largely snubbed.
“I love wine,” Alkins said. “I just hate the whole pretense side of it; the douchebag side of it. It’s so off-putting to so many customers. We try to remove that.
“We’re such a millennial company that we only do screw tops on our bottles, and the can technology has improved dramatically in the last six years. Cans are so much more economical, so much more recyclable. Tennessee does not recycle glass very well, but there’s a big misconception about cans. When people would try the wine, they would say they could taste the metal but there’s a lining in the can so whatever they were tasting, it wasn’t metal. It was just a mental block.”
Hutton laughs when hearing stories of self-professed wine experts visiting the facility.
“People come in and spin their glass and tell Ty all these facts about wines,” Hutton said, chuckling. “He’s a certified winemaker so he knows everything about everything. It’s always funny hearing what people have to say to him. He’ll give them two glasses of the same wine and they’ll tell him the difference between the two when it’s the same wine so he always laughs. People try to make it more complicated than it is. Just enjoy the wine.”
The eventual goal is to sell the business to a behemoth that would benefit from their entrepreneurial work. Alkins and Hutton both wonder how far along that process would be if not for a series of tornadoes that ripped through Nashville in early March 2020, just before the global pandemic shut everything down, including the NHL.
One tornado struck Nashville Urban Winery on a Monday night when it was closed, destroying 5,000 square feet of the facility and totaling $3 million in damage.
“Around 11:30 or 12, my alarm company called and said there had been a penetration on one of the windows,” Alkins said. “Then I got another call saying the front door was broken into so I came over and there was no building. There were U-Haul vans rolling down the street from their facility across the street. All of our rooftops units were thrown into the building behind us, there were smashed cars and our neighbor had a hole ripped right out of the center of the building.”
It was a blessing that the building was empty of people at the time, and the pandemic would have shut down the facility anyway, but the combination of factors had a chilling effect on business.
“It was tough because we really had a lot of momentum going at that time,” Hutton said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself because everybody kind of got affected by the pandemic, but it’s nice to get back to some normalcy here just for Ty’s sake.
“He was running around with his head cut off, trying to get the building fixed up when there weren’t really a lot of trades available because everybody was trying to fix stuff and the prices were through the roof. It made for a really complicated time. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to manage a lot of moving parts with very little stress.’
Love & Exile has only been up and running for about two months since re-opening, and Alkins said it has been a struggle trying to make up for lost ground, but he has moved on. What once was office space is now a chic outdoor seating area (below).
Alkins also is trying to rebuild relationships with restaurants, hotels and other businesses that were interrupted by the pandemic, but Love & Exile was hopping on a Thursday night, the local art and modern light fixtures created a vibrant but calming effect, and the variety of red wines that Alkins offered for tasting were all top-notch.
We tried something called The Best Red Blend Ever – Me (60 percent Tempranillo, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Pinot Noir), whose final word was added to satisfy the federal truth in advertising folks. We tried Pais(ant), an actual peasant wine in Chile that has recently been recognized for its quality and structure. There’s even a sparkling red wine known as pizza wine that comes from a can and surprises with its ease of drinking. Alkins said it works well with the crispy crust of pizza.
Hutton, who is currently out with a lower-body injury, visited his business partner and business on Saturday night after the game. Some Coyotes players and staff were also considering a visit this weekend, but Hutton said he was very low-key with the suggestion.
“I try not to force too many teammates to go, just because I own part of it and that feels weird,” he said. “I usually just give guys the option. One year in Buffalo, we had the father’s trip so we brought all the dads there, and we had a good time.
“I came after the season one year in St. Louis with Brayden Schenn and Kyle Brodziak, three couples, and we all ended up on the wall of fame (or shame as Alkins calls it) and had to leave about 11 p.m. because we had a little too much fun. Usually, people seem excited to go, and most of the time when when people do go there, they don’t come away disappointed.”