Wine School Team to Launch Urban Winery in Henderson

Students work in the barrel room at Grape Expectations in Henderson

For a decade, Grape Expectations Nevada School of Winemaking has been teaching the art and science of making wine. The Henderson school offers class sessions twice annually featuring either Chilean or California grapes, depending on the season. Students get together in groups to make wine, supervised by Grape Expectations personnel.

This fall, Grape Expectations management will launch a separate commercial venture to make and sell wine. Key word, they emphasize, is “separate.”

Wineries with legal public tasting rooms are new to the state’s two largest counties. On both ends of the state, the applicants are getting a crash course in the legal intricacies of maintaining separate identities and physical separation between the new ventures and any existing operations with a liquor license. Such issues have stalled Washoe County’s first urban winery, which is now months behind schedule, according to a partner in the operation.

The new Clark County winery – called Vegas Valley Winery – will sit in the same building with the school. It has its own address, and the tasting room has its own front door. Management has gone to great lengths to ensure it will be isolated from the student facility and the products produced there.

“We are opening a winery, not becoming a winery,” said General Manager Mike Schoenbaechler, who became acutely aware of the degree to which Nevada’s Department of Taxation has a hand in approving public tasting facilities as he watched the neighboring breweries operate.

No legal detail was too small to sweat when the group at Grape Expectations began to contemplate a opening a winery, Schoenbaechler said. They invited personnel from Taxation to tour the site and discuss proper execution.

“We wanted separate entity, physical separation, separate address. We wanted all of that in order, just knowing that we didn’t want to run into any issues,” said Schoenbaechler

“From day one when we started this project, we had (the taxation department) on board. Even when it was a pipe dream,” he said. “I think we’ve done everything right.”

Grape Basin News recently toured the school, and the developing winery. The school’s large barrel room is adjacent to the winery’s locked bonded area. A chain link fence separates the two spaces.

“Any wine that’s produced in here stays in here until it’s in the bottle, out of bond, and then at that point it’s able to be sold,” Schoenbaechler said, showing the small winery space.

A trendy, but understated tasting room was nearly finished during the late March visit.

At the same time, the management team was preparing for spring classes at Grape Expectations. Students starting this spring will take about nine months to produce and bottle wine from Chilean grapes.

The process fosters teamwork and tight bonds among the winemakers and with the staff, says owner and self-described “Wine Wench” Patty Peters.

“It’s the strangest business ever, because they all become family for us,” she said.

The students come from all walks of life. Many are hobbyists, but some aspire to go professional, and all have had a hand in making some award-winning wines.

It was students who urged Peters to keep Grape Expectation open after the sudden death in 2012 of its founder, her husband, Charlie Peters.

“When they heard Charlie had passed, I just kept getting phone calls, one after another – ‘please don’t close, please don’t close. Keep it going,’” she told Grape Basin News.

The school had been Charlie’s vision, and he was the expert. The current team, including Schoenbaechler and colleague K.J. Howe say they’d learned “just enough” about winemaking from Charlie Peters to keep it going after his passing.

This fall, as Vegas Valley tasting room opens its doors, the Grape Expectation School of Winemaking will start its tenth year. Vegas Valley Winery expects to start with wines from other regions, but hopes to begin pouring its own Nevada-sourced product within a few years.


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