Sparks Clears the Path for Urban Wineries; First Tasting Room Slated for October Opening

A winery named for a piece of railroad history is expected to open this fall in Nevada’s “Rail City.” Sparks, Nevada will be home to Engine 8 Urban Winery, where owners Mike and Wendi Rawson will pour a dozen varietals and offer visitors a view of the winemaking process through a glass wall in the tasting room.

Engine 8 seems poised to capture traffic from a revived Victorian Square. The property sits just west of the entrance to the multiplex cinema (currently closed for remodeling), in a retail complex flanked on each side by a maze of newly constructed apartment buildings. Story continues below…

Poster in the window at the future site of Engine 8 Urban Winery, Victorian Square in Sparks, July 21, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“Engine 8” was not first choice for the name of the winery, said Wendi Rawson. Mike, her husband and winery partner, suggested it after the Victorian Square project developer requested that they scrap the original name.

“It’s the name of the last steam engine that was retired, that passed through this area,” Rawson said.

Rawson says the name change has been a blessing in disguise, presenting unanticipated promotional opportunities. The authentic Engine 8 steam locomotive is on loan to the City of Sparks from the Nevada State museum, and is currently displayed nearby in Victorian Square. Story continues below…

Engine 8 labels will highlight traditional Nevada themes. Label courtesy of Engine 8

“We’ve been able to take that and work with the Sparks museum,” Rawson told GBN in a phone interview. The tasting room will incorporate some elements of a railroad theme.

The Rawsons will make their wines from juices delivered to the winery by firms offering supplies and consulting. The fruit will be sourced and crushed by a service provider in California, Rawson said.

“We’ll put it in tanks, add yeast, and we will do the fermenting process on-site,” she said. Engine 8 will feature an extensive wine list that includes an array of reds and whites, plus two ports and two fruit wines.

Engine 8’s business model would have been prohibited at the Victorian Square location before last month, when the Sparks City Council paved the way for urban tasting rooms by amending the city’s zoning code. The change was proposed by the Sparks planning department, to resolve a disparity between rules for wineries and rules for craft breweries and distilleries. Story continues below…

Future site of Engine 8 Urban Winery (building at left) on July 21, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Title 20 of the code restricted wineries to agricultural zones, where they were expected to be part of an operation that includes live vineyards and on-site wine production. At the same time, breweries and distilleries were allowed to operate in wide-ranging locations, including areas zoned for industrial, commercial, and mixed residential use.

City Planning Manager John Rundle made the case in June to write the term “urban winery” into the code, noting that craft brewers and distillers are “fundamentally similar to a winery using grapes or juice produced off-site.”

“The Planning Commission therefore determined that the Urban Winery’s use is appropriate in the Downtown Victorian Square, Mixed-Commercial, Mixed-Residential subdistricts” of the city, according to a written copy of Rundle’s analysis.

Title 20 now defines “Urban Winery” as:

… a bonded winery facility where a building is utilized to convert fruit juices to wine from grapes grown at a remote location transported to the facility within the City for aging, bottling, storing, distribution and selling of said wine. An urban winery includes crushing, fermenting and refermenting, bottling, blending, bulk and bottle storage, aging, shipping, receiving, laboratory equipment and maintenance facilities, sales, and administrative office functions, and may include tasting and promotional events.

Washoe County’s first urban winery opened in September of 2017 in Reno’s 4th Street Corridor.

Under state law, Engine 8 will be required to include Nevada grapes in its product if its production exceeds 1,000 cases. The Rawsons have no current plans to grow their own grapes.

Mike and Wendi Rawson are native Nevadans. He was born in Yerington and she in Fallon.

“We certainly hope that we can make an impact within our city,” she told GBN. “To be native Nevadans and to be able to bring a business that’s unique, and to also be able to bring Nevada Proud into our business. We’re really excited about that.”



Reno’s 4th Street Winemakers Offer Sips and Tips at Third Thursday Event

As Reno’s Wineries on 4th anticipates the launch of its third winery next weekend, its resident winemakers made a joint public appearance, pouring four reds and two whites for about 40 oenophiles at Nevada Vines & Wines.

The sips came with bits of wisdom acquired through trial and error during the 4th Street startup phase. Mike Steedman’s Nevada Sunset was the first of the trio to open there in September of 2017.

“We’re making mistakes as we go,” said Steedman, “But I think you learn from that.” For instance, he said, Nevada Sunset has learned that whites are harder to make than reds. Story continues below…

Resident winemakers from Reno’s Wineries on 4th sample their wines on July 19, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“Some of the first whites… we didn’t filter enough, because they tasted great, they smelled so great,” Steedman told the audience, many of whom are also winemakers. “But that’s a big mistake.”

Nevada Sunset is experimenting with its product line. Its future offerings will not necessarily remain the same.

“We’re still trying to figure out what our niche is” he said.

Attendees at Nevada Vines & Wines Third Thursday tasting on July19,2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Joe Bernardo is a veteran home winemaker with one month of commercial experience at 4th Street. He’s been collecting customer feedback since the June 16 grand opening of Basin and Range Cellars. The Basin and Range Frontenac has been a hit, he said.

 “I started out telling people that this is a great wine to have with a big, heavy piece of meat because it’s a deep red. It’s a full-bodied wine,” he told the group. “But then some people came back the other day and said, ‘It’s the best wine we ever had with spaghetti.’ So now we have a meat and spaghetti wine.” Bernardo said.

Basin and Range partner Wade Johnston told GBN last month he expects the label’s offerings to remain consistent, with differences in the character of those wines from year to year.

“The variability (between) vintages is part of what makes wine interesting for me,” Johnston said. “I think seeing the changes reflected… makes for interesting wine,” Johnston said.

A toast to Wineries on 4th by resident winemakers Adam Hand, Joe Bernardo, and Mike Steedman. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Adam Hand owns Great Basin Winery, which has been making wine on site and will unveil its product next week in the 4th Street tasting room.

“I’m the odd man out, in that I don’t own a vineyard, and I don’t use any Nevada fruit,” Hand told the gathering. He sources fruit from long-time acquaintances in California, and noted that he’d like to use Nevada grapes, but the supply isn’t there.

“My program will be the same every year,” he said. “I’ll make the same varieties and they’ll come from the same vineyards. It’ll all be small lot, no more than about 150 cases.”

A common lament is the necessity to begin selling their wines as soon as possible, rather than allowing them more time to mature.

“If I had my druthers I wouldn’t release it,” Hand said as his Syrah was being poured. The wine would be enhanced by five years of aging, he said. The other winemakers agreed they’re looking forward to a time when a longer aging period won’t cause financial havoc.

“But right now it’s about making money, to buy more grapes, to make more wine,” said Steedman.

Space is also a limitation at 4th Street. The wineries share their production facility with strict adherence to legal requirements that they keep their grapes and their winemaking processes physically separated from each other. There’s little room left for long-term storage, they said.

The winemakers have additional aspirations, some needing action by the state legislature. They believe their growth is hindered by a requirement that restricts wineries to a single tasting room, which the law says must be on the same property with the winemaking facility. They’re also experimenting with products like cider and mead, both categorized as wines, but without applicable regulation for commercial purposes.

Steedman urged attendees to discuss those subjects with their legislators.