Sample Local Brews and Spirits at the Nevada Small Farm Conference

The Nevada Small Farm Conference will feature a Farm to Flask workshop at the 2018 conference. Speakers from Bentley Heritage in Minden and Seven Troughs Distilling in Sparks will discuss harvesting and malting. Ron Godin from the University of Colorado will share a decade of experience working with hops growers. Local products will be available for sampling.

The conference is at the Nugget on February 2-3. Earlybird registration fee is $95 per person, or $105 after January 12. Full conference schedule and registration here.

December 2017 marks 84 years since the end of Prohibition

The federal prohibition amendment banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” This month, we celebrate the anniversary of its repeal. Americans are free to make, sell, transport (and consume) alcohol, with the regulatory authority assumed by the states. Reason Magazine celebrates, but also points out the many ways prohibition is alive and well. Examples include the nation’s 200 dry counties, bans on Happy Hour specials, and don’t forget case limits — Nevada’s own restriction on beer, wine, and spirits producers.

Surviving California Wineries Need Visitors — Most Tasting Rooms Open for Business
October 23

California Wine Country tourism officials are working hard to spread the word — recovery involves more than rebuilding the fire-ravaged communities. Financial survival for the wineries depends on getting back to business. San Francisco Chronicle reports that while international tourism is important, regional visits are bread-and-butter. In business terms, the industry may have more to fear from a dearth of regional traffic than from fire-related destruction, some say.

Ferrari-Carano Mourns Patriarch
October 9

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery mourns the passing of Don Carano, winery founder and a Nevada powerhouse in business and law. Read the winery’s obituary and salute to his life and business success here.

Not interested in the business, Pellegrini has passion and a great harvest party

At Yerington’s Pellegrini vineyard, a retired science teacher grows grapes for the pleasure of working with plants, and makes wine for the love of chemistry.

“I enjoy the chemistry more than anything else about the wine,” says Steve Pellegrini. He also has a botanist’s passion for viticulture, and loves working outdoors.

Steve Pellegrini in his Yerington winery in October of 2017. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

You might call Pellegrini the reluctant winemaker. Dumping alfalfa in favor of grapes was his wife’s idea. The first experiment with 100 vitis vinifera was a flop.

“Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet – they all died,” he said.

That was 2004. Success came the following year with 150 hybrids, a suggestion from the management of the Tahoe Ridge winery. The Pellegrini vineyard now has 1,500 vines, all Frontenac.

“I kind of got hooked on it,” Pellegrini told Grape Basin News. But the real motivator was keeping his water permit. “In Nevada those are very hard to come by. I was gonna lose it if I didn’t put something in.”

The grape crop has preserved the permit, and more. As advertised by Nevada’s viticulture advocates, it’s also paid off handsomely in water conservation. The grapes require five percent of the water he used for alfalfa, Pellegrini told GBN.

A dozen years later, working in the vineyard is a full-time job. Making wine is secondary.

Pellegrini’s wife and sons are artists who design a new label for each vintage. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“I baby the plants,” he said. “They’re happy.”

The vines have 25 percent more space than they need, with 60 square feet apiece, six feet apart. He limits production to 2.67 pounds of grapes per vine.

“I’m told you can do a lot more than that. But I don’t want to have to start replacing them.” He likens it to raising cattle. “You don’t want them to have too many calves, you’re gonna wind up losing heifers.”

Pellegrini’s grapes have turned up in wines made by some of Nevada’s commercial producers. There was a short-lived arrangement with the Pahrump Valley Winery, and this year he sold part of his crop to the new Nevada Sunset Winery. But Pellegrini hasn’t been gripped by the commercial fever that’s fired up some of the state’s vintners.

“When you make your own product to sell, you’re gonna have people who don’t like it. You’re gonna have people who have all kinds of suggestions. I’m not interested in going there,” he said. “I grow it, drink it, and I’m happy with that”

The Pellegrini operation is driven by passion and pleasure. And then there’s the harvest party.

Pellegrini built this replica of the Italian bread ovens his grandfather once built for Mason Valley ranchers. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

With 45 volunteers the 2017 harvest took a bit more than three hours. The rest of the day was for a big Italian style party, a way to revive some of Mason Valley’s Italian tradition that’s slipped away over the years, says Pellegrini.

“Big get-togethers, lots of vino, and the accordion, and lots of people coming together,” he said. “We’ve lost that.”

A brick Italian bread oven built by Pellegrini sits adjacent to the vineyard, a replica of the ones his stone mason grandfather once built for the valley’s ranchers. The door is a remnant he located when he set out in search of one of the original ovens.

The oven resembles a red-brick igloo. It sits neatly on a platform of stones, revealing the precision its builder brings to his projects.

The Pellegrini winery reflects similar precision. The building was once a taxidermy lab – he has a master’s degree in zoology. Now stainless steel barrels gleam above a spotless floor. In this space, winemaking is an ongoing chemistry experiment.

The reluctant winemaker is modest about his product.

“It’s a real deep red wine, very acidic. Probably wouldn’t meet the expectations of a lot of wine drinkers.” he said. “It’s such a deep red wine it’s almost black.”

“I’m just learning how to do this,” he says. “Every year I learn a little bit more.”