Successful Reboot at UNR Valley Road Vineyard; Committed Volunteers Needed

Two vineyards owned by the University of Nevada are responding to care under a recently-hired program director with viticulture expertise. New vines were planted last month on the north side of the property with help from volunteers. A plot of mature vines on the south side is being groomed for a harvest that Director Charles Schembre hopes will fetch $2,500 per ton. Story continues below…

Charles Schembre inspects new flowers on mature grape vines at the Valley Road vineyards on June 20, 2019. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Schembre has been at the helm of the Desert Farming Initiative since last fall, with responsibility that extends beyond the vineyards. While he was hired primarily to oversee other DFI farming experiments, his arrival sparked excitement in the northern Nevada wine community because he came with extensive experience managing vineyards in California’s wine regions.

Newly replanted north vineyard at the Desert Farming Initiative Valley Road facility on June 20, 2019. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

A call for help last month to replant the north vineyard at Valley Road brought more than 40 volunteers from the community, Schembre told Grape Basin News. DFI staff was gratified by the response.

“It was remarkable,” he said. “We planted 930 vines in three hours.”

The challenge going forward is to develop a corps of volunteers who can commit to regular hours, and who are willing to work on mother nature’s timetable, Schembre said. The crops demand certain tasks at certain times.

“Agriculture is about timing, not doing,” Schembre told GBN during an interview last year where he expressed tentative hope that the vineyards could become financially self-sustaining, noting that full-time labor is necessary to stay on top of the work. A few people who work only a few hours a week is not sufficient, he said at the time. Story continues below…

An intern works with a DFI employee to trim the mature vines in the research vineyard at Valley Road on June 20, 2019. Photo @GrapeBasinNews

Volunteers also require staff time for training. A lot of people start with enthusiasm, and realize after a few hours that vine tending is not glamorous work. Then they disappear, Schembre said, and the whole process has to be repeated, straining the DFI staff.

The revival of the two long-neglected vineyards was almost a footnote in the program director’s job. Schembre told GBN last year he didn’t believe it would be difficult given his background, and it could produce a long-term benefit for the University.

A recent June day found the newly planted vines green and healthy, but not yet peeking over their sleeves. The older south vineyard appeared to thrive, and was being groomed by two men with supervision from Schembre. One of the men pruning vines was an intern completing 300 hours of work in the field to earn a horticulture degree from Oregon State University.

“There will be some harvest in the old research vineyard this year,” Schembre told GBN. “I do not have a yield estimate at this point.”

Some of the 2019 grapes will be sold. Schembre hopes to push the price substantially upward from last year’s $1,000 per ton. The sale of the grapes has to sustain the program, he said, and there was no real program last year, when a local winery harvested and purchased the grapes.

The remainder of the 2019 harvest will be designated for the University’s oenology and winemaking classes taught by Professor Grant Cramer. Many of northern Nevada’s professional and hobbyist winemakers learned the craft from Cramer or his UNR predecessor, and many spent time working as volunteers in the Valley Road vineyards. Members of that community form the core of Nevada Vines & Wines, a nonprofit that promotes Nevada wine.


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