New Vineyard Takes Shape High Above Reno

A vineyard in its earliest stage, like a caterpillar, offers no hint that it will transform into something beautiful. It’s just a lot of lumpy, rocky furrows, crawling like fat, brown worms across the earth. This vineyard is the length of a football field, crosscut by a wide dirt lane, which in two years will be a driveway, leading to a home with a stunning view of everything from Sparks to the Geiger Grade. Story continues below…

Dan Shore’s Reno vineyard looking north and east in June, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

The vineyard-in-progress and surrounding property belong to Dan Shore, principal at Shore Management and Development, whose recent foray into winemaking inspired the project — a home perched above the city, with hundreds of vines, a cellar, and space for winemaking. The house is on the drawing board, to be complete some time in 2020. The property sits just south of Windy Hill in the private community called Anitra, directly beneath the glass-front gaze of the home belonging to gaming executive John Farahi.

Shore plans to sell some of his grapes, and use some for non-commercial winemaking. He is thus far underwhelmed by the economics of Nevada viticulture, but contemplates adding more vineyards in the future. There’s also an olive grove in the plan, for olive oil and other specialty products. Processing olives is more a hobby than a business, he told GBN. Story continues below…

Vineyard in progress sits directly beneath the home of gaming executive John Farahi. Photo:@GrapeBasinnews

Veteran viticulturist Joe Bernardo and crew worked nonstop on the vineyard through the month of June. First the digging, which unearthed a massive load of boulders and more than once taxed his faithful 35-year-old tractor to the point of a breakdown. Next, water lines were laid. A specialty compost was delivered, and at last, the planting – 850 vines, five reds and two whites, which two years from now will flank the driveway of the hillside home. Story continues below…

Three-man crew: Cory Rizzolo, Dennis McDonald, and Joe Bernardo, at work on the Shore vineyard in June of 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Shore met Bernardo through Nevada Vines & Wines. Bernardo had logged 20 years planting and tending vines at the University of Nevada’s Valley Road vineyard and at the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station. More recently, he’s produced the 12-ton crop at the heart of a new commercial venture, Basin and Range Cellars. A separate vineyard at his home serves as the base for a wine academy sponsored by Nevada Vines & Wines. Story Continues below…

Joe Bernardo fills the trench where a water line was laid in June of 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Notwithstanding such substantial expertise, Bernardo says he underestimated the challenge this project would present. The assignment includes a mandate to maintain the contour of the hill, and the soil is among the rockiest Northern Nevada has to offer. The project expanded to fill the month.

At the end of June, the naked vines are mostly planted, hidden beneath paper sleeves. By August, Bernardo says, the leaves will peak over the tops of the sleeves. Aesthetically, the vines will take shape well ahead of the house, and they may bear usable fruit by 2021. 

CORRECTION: This story has been edited. GBN originally reported that Dan Shore was referred to Joe Bernardo by the University of Nevada.

Sleeved vines as the Shore vineyard project progresses in June of 2018. Photo:@GrapeBasinNews


Shore vineyard in progress in June of 2018; Preserving the slope was part of the mandate. Photo:@GrapeBasinNews


Vines & Wines Home Winemaker Awards Highlights Nevada Grown Fruit

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…

Greg and Susan Ross savor his win at the Home Winemaker Awards on May 17, 2018

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.

Stella, for whom Greg Ross named his award-winning Bulldog Red and Bulldog White Blends.

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.

Beyond Sniffing and Swirling: UNLV Sommelier Academy Instills Respect for the Farmer and a Grasp of the Business

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.

Heath Hiudt offers a Sommelier Academy preview at UNLV’s Paradise campus on May 9, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“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.


New Distributor Plans Assistance to Small Wineries

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.

Chuck Harder in his office at Reno Wine Distributors on May 3, 2018. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

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.

Wine Academy Kicks Off Strong Second Year

After a successful first year, Joe Bernardo decided not to conduct a 2018 wine academy without a minimum of ten students. The veteran winemaker thought the academy’s inaugural class might have exhausted demand with 23 graduates. It came as a pleasant surprised when he had to cap 2018 enrollment at 25.
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Wine Academy co-founder Joe Bernardo demonstrates pruning techniques in May of 2017 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“I could have had a few more people,” Bernardo said, noting strong word-of-mouth.  “A guy tells his neighbor, stuff like that. I was surprised at the amount of enthusiasm, and people that were interested.”

Students in the academy attend a class once a month, and spend supervised time tending 20 vines apiece in vineyards belonging to Bernardo, or in vineyards owned by experienced growers William Coplin or Mary Sauvola.

Coplin co-founded the academy with Bernardo, and supervised students in 2017. He allowed the academy to earn 25 percent of the harvest from a broad assortment of mature grapes at his La Casa Castaña vineyard. Coplin’s grapes have produced wine for 8 years.

After the 2018 harvest, the year-long academy will shift its focus from viticulture to winemaking. Bernardo has tweaked the curriculum to focus more on testing the wine as it ferments. He touched lightly on it the first year, believing the process was too advanced for entry level students.

“Checking for sulfur, checking for acid,” he said. “A lot of people asked about it so I decided to include it the second year.”

Students will start pruning vines in May. Until then, Bernardo says, the action will be in the classroom.






Nevada Dept of Ag Offers $250K Specialty Crop Grant; Viticulture Qualifies

The Nevada Department of Agriculture has announced funding for its Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Specialty crops are defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, legumes, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture),” according to a statement from the Department.

A student clips a grape vine at the Nevada Vines & Wines Academy on March 18,2017. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

“Viticulture definitely qualifies,” said Agriculture Department spokeswoman Rebecca Allured. “We have funded wine industry projects in the past.”

While the awards will go to projects that enhance the “competitiveness of Nevada’s specialty crops,” the Department specifically disqualifies private parties as sole beneficiaries.

“Individual producers can apply,” Allured said. But the proposed project must have multiple beneficiaries, and should be for research, marketing, education, or outreach.

“Not simply to start up or improve operations,” Allured told GBN.

Nonprofit and tribal organizations, minority groups, disadvantaged farmers, agricultural associations, industry groups, community based organizations and academic institutions are also encouraged to apply, the Department says. Nevada boasts several community-oriented food distribution and research projects funded by the specialty crop grant program.

The funding is available through a partnership between Nevada and the United States Department of Agriculture. Letters of intent are due by March 15, 2018. Full application proposals are due a month later.

UPDATE – This story has been updated to reflect comments from Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Rebecca Allured.

Bottling Day Arrives for Basin and Range

“It’s been two years in the making,” said Joe Bernardo.

Bernardo stood in the parking lot of the 4th Street Wineries and watched a crew push cases of Basin and Range Brianna from the rear door of a mobile bottling plant. The plain, white cartons moved from a conveyor belt to a stacked pallet, where Basin and Range partner Wade Johnston guided a forklift into place.

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Wade Johnston moves cartons of Basin and Range wines on February 17, 2018 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Bernardo and Johnston expected that by the end of the day they’d pack up 950 cases of their sweet, white Brianna and a Frontenac Rose. They’ve planned a separate bottling session in March for 450 cases of Frontenac and St. Croix reds.

Bottling day marks a new chapter for Basin and Range, whose 2016 harvest was unexpectedly put into frozen storage when their shared  4th Street location faced a series of construction delays and licensing challenges. The Basin and Range winemaking effort remained in limbo until last August.

“A long time getting here, long time getting the equipment, a long time getting the wine made,” Bernardo said. “Now we’re nine-tenths of the way there.”

The two bottling sessions — 1,400 cases by the end of March —  includes vintage 2016 and vintage 2017.

Basin and Range Partners Wade Jonston and Joe Bernardo in the barrel room at the 4th Street Wineries on February 17, 2018 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Basin and Range will hold off its tasting room debut until all its varietals are ready to pour, likely in the early summer.

“I don’t want to rush the reds,” Johnston told GBN. “They could still sit in the bottle for a little bit.”

The brand will be offered in the same 4th Street tasting room that’s been inhabited since last fall by Nevada Sunset Winery. The two wineries operate in the same building under a recently-legalized business arrangement called an alternating proprietorship. A third winery, Great Basin Winery, LLC, is also located there, and has yet to debut its wine.

Prices for the Basin and Range products haven’t been determined. Bernardo and Johnston will host tastings to gauge response to the wine before pricing it, Bernardo told GBN.

ABOVE: The Ball Bottling mobile unit at the 4th Street Wineries on February 17, 2018 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews
Ball Bottling mobile unit with newly bottled Basin and Range Brianna on February 17, 2018 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews
Ball Bottling mobile operation; empty bottles move into the plant (right): Full bottles come back to the rear of the trailer, ready to load into cartons (left) Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Nevada Vines & Wines Energized in 2018; Seeks Alliance with Beer and Spirits

Nevada’s wine and viticulture advocacy group will redefine itself in 2018, following a weekend retreat where new board members were initiated.

Nevada Vines & Wines President Teri Bath (left) speaks to members at the 2017 Christmas Party Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Nevada Vines and Wines will reach south to work with growers and winemakers in Clark County and the state’s rural regions. The organization also expects to collaborate with Nevada’s growing contingent of craft brewers and distillers to influence alcohol regulations.

“We’re going to be a lot more organized,” said Vines & Wines president Teri Bath. “We are Nevada Vines & Wines, not just northern Nevada.”

Bath will invite southern industry members to join the organization and to attend events in Reno.

At its retreat, the board welcomed Adrian Dyette and Stuart Michell as new members. Steve Bamberger and Mary Sauvola have both resigned from the board for personal reasons. It’s currently unclear whether Bamberger will continue to coordinate the group’s annual winemaker awards held in the spring.

Vines & Wines will also seek a new location for its monthly third Thursday tastings. The February tasting will feature chocolate and wine pairings with Allison Robinson of Wine Tahoe will pour from Boisset Collection. This event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on February 15 at the 4th Street Wineries.

THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story identified new Vines & Wines board member Stuart Michell as Stuart Mitchell.

Vegas Valley Winery Up and Running in Henderson

Steve La-Sky, a.k.a Fireman Steve, was alone in the Vegas Valley Winery tasting room at 4 p.m. on a recent Wednesday afternoon, but this was an apparently brief post-holiday respite. In the past month, he’s tended to crowds of Golden Knights fans and Christmastime visitors. And the winery’s true grand opening is still weeks away.

“Fireman” Steve La-Sky pours the impressive Vegas Vally Winery Syrah on January 3, 2018. photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Vegas Valley is Clark County’s first urban winery, a new venture by the management of Grape Expectations Nevada School of Wine. The tasting room is next door to the school, where several thousand alumni are a built-in constituency. Business has been brisk for an establishment that’s still in “soft opening” mode and selling only by the glass.

The team will ramp up to bottle sales as they’re able to unveil the wine in the production pipeline.

“We have only so much inventory,” marketing director K.J. Howe told GBN. “There’s more wine in the barrel being aged, but the amount we can sell will be determined after grand opening.”

The best seller is Vegas Valley’s 2014 Paso Robles Syrah, but La-Sky and Howe say the Rose is also popular.

“We can’t keep it in stock,” Howe says of the 2015 Gamay Rose. He notes that Rose as a category was dead for decades because, he says, it was essentially an afterthought made with leftovers. It’s been revived as winemakers have taken a more deliberate approach.

“You could make it spritzy, you could make it dry, you can make it sweet, you can make it any way you want.” he said. “We make it middle of the road.” The tasting notes indicate a “lingering finish of watermelon Jolly Ranchers.”

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The wall hanging at Vegas Valley Winery, created from barrel staves by production manager Chad Evans. The hardwood-look floor is actually concrete. Wall tiles were created by a friend of the winery who teaches art. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Two whites and a Zin fill out the list. A broader assortment sits in the winery’s bonded area, waiting to be rolled out over the coming year.

The room has a low-key artsy touches created by the Grape Expectations winemaking community. A concrete floor has been finished to look like hardwood. Tiles on the face of the bar were crafted by an art teacher friend. Production manager Chad Evans,  also a skilled carpenter, created an exquisite wall hanging from barrel staves.

Vegas Valley Winery is located in a light industrial district of Henderson, open seven days a week.


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.”