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Nevada Growers Get Serious, Look to Washington State for Organization Model

Nevada’s nascent association of grape growers sought inspiration this week from the Executive Director of the Washington Wine Growers. Vicky Scharlau described her state’s evolution from a region known primarily for tree fruit, to a viticulture mecca with 58 thousand acres yielding more than a quarter million tons of wine grapes.

Vicky Scharlau, Executive Director of the Washington Winegrowers. Photo from Washington Winegrowers

During a two-hour presentation in Reno, Scharlau emphasized the importance of planning. Proceed with intention, she advised. Develop a vision, set goals, and raise money. Scharlau encouraged a minimum five-year planning cycle, which, she noted, is not such a long time in the life of an industry.

Attendees were from northern Nevada. Some ensuing discussion suggests they may prioritize creating a financing structure, possibly with tiered dues, and developing an advocacy group. Over time, a successful effort could be financed by a combination of agriculture grants and an assessment based on acreage.

Washington growers depend on several entities to perform a range of services for the industry, Scharlau told the group. Advocacy – advancing the industry’s legislative and policy agendas – falls to a separate nonprofit organization from those responsible for marketing or industry research. The entities also work with larger organizations such as the Winegrape Growers of America and the National Association of American Wineries.

Vineyard owners gathered in Reno on January 7, 2019, for advice on starting a growers association. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Washington’s efforts have more recently turned to education. The state is home to 900 licensed wineries, but as recently as 2014 its educational institutions were turning out graduates with little practical grasp of the industry.

According to a 2014 press release, an education consortium was formed with 2 and 4-year colleges, the growers association, and the Washington Wine Commission. Its aim was projecting workforce needs, and creating more relevant viticulture, enology, and other wine-related programs at community colleges and the universities.

Nevada’s been compared to eastern Washington in terms of its potential for wine success, with dry climate, cold winters, and nutrient-poor soil. But Washington’s quick (three-decade) ascent to prestigious wine region was fostered by an already strong fruit farming sector. Its Washington Apple Commission, a body created by statute in the 1930s, underpinned the development of the Washington Winegrowers organization.

Another difference lies in the purpose of Nevada’s industry-related commissions. Such agencies in the Silver State do not participate in advocacy or marketing. The Nevada Gaming Commission and the Mining Oversight and Accountability Commission are administrative agencies, charged with approving and adjudicating industry activity.

A prospective growers association in Nevada will begin as a subdivision of nonprofit Nevada Vines & Wines.

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