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.”