Basin and Range Makes 2016 Wines from Frozen Grapes

While a late summer heatwave pushed Reno past 100 degrees, the air was cool inside the city’s first urban winery. The tasting room was cluttered with evidence of its impending grand opening. Behind the massive sliding door that separates the bar from the facility’s rear quarters, one of its resident winemakers worked up a sweat, engaged in the craft’s most unglamorous tasks.

Chris Walsh and Ray Cardoza load Brianna grapes into the press. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Joe Bernardo and a three-man crew were attending to a ten ton harvest from 2016, removed from frozen storage after legal issues delayed the opening of the 4th Street establishment a for the better part of a year. Bernardo and team had carted in loads of Frontenac and Brianna, a smallish green-white hybrid developed for cold hardiness and disease resistance.

They’d processed 14 bins of reds the previous day, Bernardo explained as he attached plumbing lines to a row of tanks.

They were ready now to press 10 bins of the sweet white grapes, turning out a fortified dessert wine for Basin and Range Wines, the label he and winery partner Wade Johnston will offer at 4th street.

“Anywhere from three months to a year,” Bernardo mused, asked when the sweet white will be ready to sell.

Joe Bernardo checks sugar and temperature as the frozen 2016 Frontenac grapes thaw

Despite research suggesting the fruit could yield good wine for a certain period after freezing, Basin and Range suffered no shortage of angst as uncertainty hung over 4th Street venture earlier this year. Besides worry over the state of the grapes, there was the expense of the storage, and a looming grape glut in fall of 2017 if there was no legal path to on-site winemaking in time for the harvest. (The Nevada legislature cleared the way with a last-minute statute before the 2017 session adjourned, permitting up to four winemaking entities to share winemaking and retail space.)

The frozen grape project was interesting enough to attract help from El Dorado County. Winemaker Chris Walsh told Grape Basin News he traveled to Reno and lent a hand because he’d never worked with frozen fruit.

“It’s a chance to see something I haven’t seen before,” said Walsh, whose LJL Wines is located high in the Sierra Foothills. He didn’t find the process to be substantially different.

“Other than the condition of the grapes,” Walsh said. “It’s figuring out what the wine is gonna give you, looking at the numbers, analyzing that, and deciding what to do with it.”

Bernardo and Johnston will be able to boast 100 percent Nevada products, grown at their Basin and Range vineyard in Douglas county.


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