Entries to the 2018 Nevada Vines & Wines Home Winemakers competition were down slightly from the prior year, but the quality was up, according to the judges who worked both years. Story continues below…
Newcomer Greg Ross was this year’s standout, taking gold ribbons for all four of his entries. Ross’s Bulldog Red and Bulldog White Blends excelled within their categories, with the Red scoring a double gold and Best of Show. Stella, the four-legged companion whose image adorns the labels, looked on from the front row.
Ross tends 485 vines near the Walker River, and expects shortly to plant several hundred more. It was his wife, Susan, who goaded him into starting a vineyard (using reverse psychology, she says) after they arrived from California. As a retired importer, Greg Ross had significant exposure to wines from around the world, but as a winemaker, he claims to be self taught.
The event on May 17 was the fifth Nevada Vines & Wines contest. The organization notes on its website that all of the gold ribbons went to wines produced with Nevada grapes. V&W judges also detected improved quality of this year’s wines over the 2017 entries. A full list of winners is posted here.
A half dozen people have arrived midday at UNLV’s Paradise campus, curious about its Sommelier Academy. They include a beverage industry employee, an event promoter, and food servers who want to understand more about wine. One attendee says she’s just interested in fun. The class will be serious, and the test will be hard, says the instructor in a one-hour preview. If they enroll, they could be ready by September to work their way toward a coveted place among wine professionals in Las Vegas.
“You look around the United States, how many cities have more of a professional sommelier presence than this city?” Heath Hiudt asks his prospective students. “You’re entering into one of the top five competitive wine industry cities in the United States.”
Hiudt takes a practical approach to teaching wine, aimed at producing professionals who can discuss wines and wine regions, and “use your own head, use your own thoughts,” he says, rather than spouting memorized wine facts.
“The goal is that I can spin you around a liquor store and walk you over to a shelf, and you can pick up a bottle of Brunello, and you go, ‘Okay I can tell you about this.'”
“Although you’ve never had this wine before, you can tell me about it, to a certain degree.”
The once-a-week course starts with a study of the world’s most common grapes — 6 whites and 9 reds. “I teach you how to study a grape, and then you can study any obscure grape,” Hiudt says.
Next, the curriculum turns to regions, where an appreciation for the farmer is instilled.
“There’s not enough focus on farming in other programs.” Hiudt disdains the snotty sommelier who criticizes wine without empathy for the people who wrestle with climate, pests, and other natural phenomena to produce the fruit. “They disrespect the process when they call (the wine) crap. It’s such a shame.”
Seven-hour class days include discussion and tasting, with some food pairings as the course progresses. The tasting instruction goes beyond sniffing and swirling.
“The way I teach tasting wine is … not so much, ‘I smell grapefruit,'” Hiudt explains. “The way I teach people to taste is based on what I call structure. What does the wine do in your mouth, from a structural standpoint? Does it make you salivate? Where’s the weight, where’s the tannin sensation? How high is the acidity?”
Students will also glimpse the business of selling wine in a Las Vegas club and restaurant environment, as Hiudt shares his real-world experience. His title is Sommelier at STK, the Cosmopolitan’s busy steak house, but his responsibilities extend to all beverage sales — millions of dollars annually, with nearly half of the volume coming from wine.
The next 13-week Sommelier Academy begins on May 30, meeting each Wednesday at the Total Wine & More store at Town Square in Las Vegas. The cost is $1,599. More information here.
Chuck Harder says he isn’t sure yet where he wants to take Reno Wine Distributors. But the mission of the new business is helping small vintners get distribution in northern Nevada’s local restaurants and retailers.
“People like to try local wines,” Harder said. “A lot of times you go into a place and there are 70 wines on a wine list.” But asking for local wine is pointless, he said, because they don’t have it.
Small producers and some exotic labels are generally unable to get attention from the major distributors of wine and spirits. Without a distributor to represent them, the wines can’t be sold into any retail or restaurant venue. This means the majority of the state’s wine producers are locked out of potentially appropriate venues like locally owned restaurants.
Nevada is a three-tier state, in which manufacturers, distributors, and retailers have legally distinct roles. The law prohibits a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages to serve as his own distributor.
Reno Wine Distributors has no sales force. Harder told GBN there may not be one. Instead, it will act as a facilitator, with winery personnel knocking on doors and closing the deals themselves. The product then will move through the sprawling warehouse on Parr Boulevard where Reno Wine Distributors has secured space to operate. The distributorship will handle paperwork and taxes.
Besides a handful of northern Nevada prospects, Harder anticipates importing from small wineries in the Sierra Foothills and elsewhere. He’s also heard rumors that out-of-state entities may be exploring the opportunity to start wineries here.
Reno Wine Distributors will also work with small brewers and distillers.
On a mission to build a statewide trade association, Nevada Vines & Wines president Teri Bath traveled south and led meetings this week with principals at Pahrump Valley Winery and the Sanders Family Winery. Bath and wine business advisor Kathy Halbardier tackled difficult topics with the Nye County vintners, including past disagreements over Nevada’s statutory case limits, and a north-south divide perceived to have stifled the growth of the fledgling industry.
The women also traipsed over rocky soil and sage brush with a duo who hope to open the next winery in the Parhump Valley. Tim Burke and Pam Tyler expect to acquire a vacant five-acre plot currently owned by Nye County, and break ground by the end of the year. Story continues below…
The couple envisions their Battle Born Vineyards tasting room with a sweeping view of the Amargosa mountain range that marks the eastern edge of Death Valley. The property is located alongside Highway 160, a tourism thoroughfare that moves 22,000 vehicles per day, according to the Pahrump Tourism Advisory Committee.
At the Pahrump Valley Winery, Bath and Halbardier drilled deeply into wine economics with owner Bill Loken, a steadfast advocate for tying case limits to the Nevada fruit content requirement. By Loken’s math, the 25 percent requirement for in-state fruit permits 5,000 cases to be profitably produced using a combination of Nevada grapes and import grapes. He notes that the first thousand cases don’t count, because they’re exempt from the content requirement. Story continues below…
Bath and Halbardier expressed hope after the meeting that Loken and his wife, winemaker Gretchen Loken, might partner with Vines &Wines in an organized, statewide effort to expand viticulture. Such an effort would promote the development of new vineyards and afford access by all the state’s winemakers to varietals that can’t be grown in their respective climates.
In a meeting with Sanders Family Winery founder Jack Sanders, he identified the cost of water and restrictions by water authorities as a challenge to further winery development in the Pahrump Valley. Sanders was instrumental in the 1990s persuading state legislators to write wineries into Nevada law.
A scheduled visit to the Vegas Valley Winery and Grape Expectations School of Winemaking in Las Vegas had to be postponed.