There will be wine
Now that Reno’s craft beer and craft spirits industries are in full swing, have you ever wondered why a local wine industry hasn’t developed alongside them?
It’s not the climate or the elevation. Wine producing regions in Germany and the Italian Alps have similar elevations to ours, and the Yakima Valley in Washington, with a similar climate, has over 100 wineries.
And it’s not the quality of the grapes that can be grown here. Biologists at the University of Nevada, Reno’s research vineyard have been developing grape varieties since 1995.
“We figured out some excellent wine grapes that people didn’t even know would grow here, like pinot noir,” said Joe Bernardo, former UNR vineyard manager. He helped develop 13 varieties.
Nor is it the lack of an eager community of growers and winemakers. Bernardo is one of them. He’s a California transplant and a former financial planner whose dad made dandelion wine when he was a child.
“I grew up on a 2,000-acre dairy farm, so I’m a farmer at heart,” he said. He found himself bored after moving to town, so he looked at UNR’s schedule and happened upon a winemaking class. At the end of the class, each student received a grape vine.
“I took it home and I planted it, and it grew, and it grew, and it grew,” Bernardo said. “A couple years later, I thought, ’Well, I’ve got these grapes. Maybe I’ll make some wine.’ I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I just started on my own.”
He ended up managing UNR’s vineyard for 20 years. Now, he grows grapes on seven acres in Minden and a half an acre in Mogul. He’s one of about a dozen directors of Nevada Vines & Wines, a local nonprofit that promotes winemaking. He teaches a year-long wine academy, with monthly lectures and hands-on vineyard training.
The reason it’s taken the wine industry a while to get going is a legal one. Until recently, Nevada law prohibited making or selling wine in counties with 100,000 or more residents. (Only Clark and Washoe counties have populations that large.)
A mission of Nevada Vines & Wines has been to get that law changed. In March 2017, the legislature reworded the law, AB 431, to allow urban wineries. Bernardo and business partner, Wade Johnson, formed Basin and Range Wineries. Two other wineries formed, too, Nevada Sunset Winery and Great Basin Winery. They share a location, equipment and a tasting room in a storefront on East Fourth Street.
“We started producing our wine when we could legally,” Bernardo said. But it took a while to get all the licensing required to bottle and sell it, so, for a year, they stored the new wine by freezing it.
So far, Basin and Range has bottled over 1,000 cases of whites. Plans to bottle the reds were set for last weekend, but a winter storm caused the driver who was bringing portable bottling equipment from California to reschedule. But the reds should be bottled in April, and Bernardo hopes Basin and Range’s grand opening will be in May.
“Almost every one of my students last year ended up planting their own vines for small wineries,” Bernardo said when asked about the industry’s future. “Six years ago when Nevada Vines & Wines first started, there were fewer than 5,000 grape vines in the whole state. Now, there’s over 30,000.”