Newly Launched Reno Wine Distributor Turns in Energetic Performance

Just months after launching a distributorship intended to boost small wine producers, Chuck Harter’s Reno Wine Distributors has scored new retail exposure for Nevada Sunset and at least one California mountain winery.

Nevada Sunset and Boyle MacDonald Wines will be featured at We Olive & Wine Bar next to the Nordstrom Rack, and at the Grille in the Somersett Golf & Country Club.

Raley’s wine shop at Galena Junction is featuring Nevada Sunset and Boyle MacDonald Wines, both represented by Reno Wine Distributors

Impressively, the labels are also in the spotlight this week at Raley’s Galena Junction store on Wedge Parkway, one of three Raley’s “wine shop” locations in Reno. The store will host separate tasting events next weekend for Nevada Sunset and Boyle MacDonald, said Raley’s Wine Steward Doc Watson, who has stocked four varietals from each winery. (See “Tasting Events,” below.)

Harter hints that Reno Wine Distributors has several other agreements pending. Additional venues include Skyline Kitchen & Vine and the 4th Street Bistro according to Craig MacDonald of Boyle MacDonald, who told GBN these are the label’s first exposures in the Reno market.

Meanwhile, retail wine managers are are upbeat about the new products.

“We’re really excited to be working with Nevada Sunset,” said Alysia Peters, who has never before stocked a Nevada wine at We Olive & Wine Bar. “With regard to quality, I think it’s really changing in Nevada.”

Peters said she was also impressed with the Boyle MacDonald Sierra Foothills wines. “I brought in two of their wines because I think they’re exceptional,” Peters told GBN.

Boyle MacDonald’s Petite Syrah and its Cock Au Vin Rose are in the wine bar now. Later this month, Peters will host a wine pairing event featuring Nevada Sunset. Story continues below…

Boyle MacDonald’s Reds on display at Raley’s on Wedge Parkway in Reno. Raley’s wine shops offer a single bottle price, and a discount for the purchase of six bottles. Photo:@GrapeBasinNews

At The Grille at Somersett, food and beverage manager Brendan Carlson says he will add Nevada Sunset Sauvignon Blanc to the menu within a week.

Nevada Sunset and Boyle MacDonald Wines have new distribution at The Grille at Somersett Golf and Country Club. Both brands are represented by Reno Wine Distributors. Photos: @GrapeBasinNews

“I just figured having a local wine would be intriguing,” said Carlson, who acknowledged that it’s a challenge to make the Somersett crowd sit up and take notice.

“We do have a tough clientele when it comes to wine,” he said. “These members know what they like.” Carlson is also adding Boyle MacDonald’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and its Cock Au Vin Rose.

Nevada Sunset was the first of three Nevada wineries to occupy Wineries on 4th in Reno. The winery is locally owned and operated by Mike Steedman and Alynn Delisle. Boyle MacDonald Winery is near the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Murphys. Winemaker Kate Boyle and her husband, Craig MacDonald, are the principals.


We Olive & Wine Bar is located next to the Nordstrom Rack on S. Virginia Street in Reno. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Tasting Events:
Boyle MacDonald on Friday, September 7
Raley’s Galena Junction (Wedge Parkway), 3-6 p.m.

Nevada Sunset on Sunday, September 9
Raley’s Galena Junction (Wedge Parkway), 1- 5 p.m.

Nevada Sunset Pairings on Thursday, September 27
We Olive and Wine Bar, 5:30-7;30 p.m.
Tickets $35; Four wines, four bites

Wine Education Options Expand in Nevada: UNLV adds 2-Day Wine Boot Camp

You’ll never know everything about wine, because there’s so much to know. But the state’s higher education system offers wine classes in small sips or big gulps, in northern and southern Nevada.

Ferrari-Carano’s Dry Sangiovese Rose at LaStrada in Reno’s El Dorado Hotel. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

At UNLV Continuing Education, a new two-day Wine Boot Camp introduces the fundamentals – winemaking theory, varietal study, regional exploration, and tasting theory. The boot camp is two Sundays in October, intended to introduce wine concepts without going into depth. There will also be time for some fun and food pairing.

Instructor Heath Hiudt hopes some of the boot camp students will be inspired to follow up with the more intensive Vine to Wine class, which paves the way for a wine career. But many will find the two-day experience is just enough.

“It lends itself to a group of girl friends, or a couple,” he said.

Hiudt, who is a veteran beverage manager and the Sommelier at the Cosmopolitan’s steak house STK, developed the Sommelier Academy Certificate Program at UNLV.

In the north, Truckee Meadows Community College has “Discovering Wine” on two successive Tuesday evenings in October. Certified Sommelier and Wine Specialist Rebecca Davidson promises a knowledge base that can lead to a lifetime of wine enjoyment and appreciation. The class explores the “characteristics and wine styles of the world’s major grape varieties,” according to TMCC’s catalog description.

Davidson has spent three decades as a professional in hospitality and wine. She also teaches a 3-credit course through the TMCC Culinary department for students on the professional track, featuring history and major varietals. About a third of the class is devoted to the science of food and wine pairing.

Wine Boot Camp at UNLV Continuing Education (Scroll to page 31)
Two Sundays, Octover 14 and October 21
Class is 7 hours with a lunch break
Total Wine at Town Square, Las Vegas

TMCC Community Education “Discovering Wine”
Two Tuesday evenings 6-9 p.m., October 16 and October 23
Total Wine on South Virginia Street in Reno

Food and Wine Pairing (3 academic credits)
Culinary 195
Truckee Meadows Community College Campus
Get information from TMCC Culinary

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.

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.
Story continues below.

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.

Story continues below.

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