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Vines & Wines Members Hope to Build a Statewide Vintners Association

A foursome from the ranks of Nevada’s northern vineyard owners has set out to organize the state’s growers and winemakers into a formal association. The four say it will be tightly focused on viticulture and the craft of winemaking, recalling the original mission of Nevada Vines & Wines.

The Nevada Grape Growers and Winemakers does not yet formally exist. The founding members hope to launch by January, and hold regular, formal meetings by March of next year. Story continues below.

Jason Schultz prepares for harvest at Twin Mustang Vineyards on September 8, 2019. Photo @GrapeBasinNews

“We are still establishing who we are and what we need to do,” said Stuart Michell, who briefly served as vice president of Nevada Vines & Wines, and orchestrated its annual vineyard tour this summer. Michell grew up in a family of ranchers and pursued agricultural studies in his native Australia. His vineyard is in Washoe Valley.

Maureen and Adrian Dyette pour their wine for Nevada Vines & Wines president Teri Bath at the Tamarack Junction on August 4, 2019. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Michell’s three collaborators are home winemakers who tend vines on residential property in the Reno-Sparks area – Jason Schultz, proprietor of Twin Mustang Vineyards, Adrian Dyette of Dyette Family Vineyards and Dave Perdue of Peavine cellars. Schultz has racked up numerous winemaking awards competing inside and outside Nevada.

The four say they’re reviving an effort that started and was quickly abandoned late last year, when an association of “large vineyard owners” fizzled shortly after its first few meetings. About a dozen northern vineyard owners in that group pooled their money to pay for a visit from the Washington Winegrowers, which offered advice on how to structure an association. The group went dormant shortly after that.

The new association will not be limited to large growers, but will welcome serious or aspiring viticulturists and winemakers, the founders say.

Stuart Michell (left) enjoys a beer with a friend at Sully’s on August 4, 2019. Photo @GrapeBasinNews

A memo outlining the group’s goals suggests a future where hundreds (even thousands) of vineyards exist in the state, “generating thousands of jobs and millions in revenue for Nevada.” To accomplish it, the organization will lobby the legislature for certain changes to state law.

The memo does not specify what changes will be necessary, or outline any strategy. The founders say they will encourage input from growers and winemakers across the state before setting an agenda for Carson City. Other goals include providing education, public relations, and building a knowledge base for the state’s active viticulturists and winemakers.

This is not fundamentally different from the mission of Nevada Vines & Wines, the state’s only currently active organization promoting the Nevada wine industry. The founders of the new group say social activities have distracted from the original mission of Nevada Vines & Wines. They say the Nevada Grape Growers and Winemakers will not host tastings and pairings, and will limit events with a strictly social purpose.

They also say they don’t intend to compete with Nevada Vines & Wines, but hope that the two organizations can be mutually supportive. All four founders are current or former Vines & Wines board members, and say they intend to continue as ambassadors for Vines & Wines. But 70 percent of Vines & Wines members are not engaged in growing or winemaking, they say.

“We want to spend 100 percent of our time and energy on the vineyards in Nevada, and on winemaking in Nevada,” Michell told Grape Basin News. “To belong to our group, you need to be one or the other.”

Organizing Nevada’s diverse wine community will be no small task. The constituency includes both home and commercial winemakers, whose challenges are vastly different.

It is further divided by geography. A far-flung bunch of northern wine producers and a small, close-knit group in southern Nevada exist under the same state laws, with 400 miles of desert between them. A sparse population of grape growers dots the vast expanse between Washoe and Clark counties, producing a relatively small amount of fruit to meet an increasing demand from Nevada’s burgeoning commercial winery sector.

The north-south relationship became complicated in 2015 when the two regions squared off at the state legislature, wrangling over limitations on a new category of commercial winery licenses for Clark and Washoe counties. The resulting statute spawned a flourishing sector of urban tasting rooms in the state’s two largest counties, but left all of the commercial participants wanting changes.

The two regions operated with virtually no further interaction until Nevada Vines & Wines president Teri Bath undertook a unification effort in 2018. In her tenure as president, Bath has emphasized the need for a north-south alliance.

“If we don’t have a unified message as a state, we will struggle as an industry,” she told Grape Basin News.

The southern contingent recently became less collegial when Pahrump Valley Winery, the largest operation in the state, was sold earlier this year. Pahrump Valley’s new management has shown no inclination to engage with the other southern producers, according to several sources in Clark and Nye counties. Those producers work cooperatively to source grapes, and share equipment and labor. Pahrump Valley management has not responded to interview requests from Grape Basin News.

Commercial wine producers in both regions have identified problems that can be solved only at the state level. There is general recognition that a unified front in the state capital will best serve the industry. The door has opened, but a formal alliance has yet to form.

The founders of Nevada Grape Growers and Winemakers say they’ll seek face-to-face conversations with potential members everywhere in the state, starting soon. No details have been provided about the cost of membership.

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