Basin and Range Partner Prepares to Sell His Stake in the Winery; Asking Price Not Yet Established
Joe Bernardo and his doctor agree that it’s time for him to slow down. As recently as the beginning of 2019 harvest, Bernardo would have rejected the idea. But a health scare that forced surgery just ahead of Thanksgiving drove home the realization – at 75, it’s time to walk away from some of life’s most demanding activities. Partnership in Basin and Range Cellars tops the list. Story continues below…
The business is one of three urban wineries operating under the same roof on Reno’s Fourth Street. Basin and Range shares the space with Nevada Sunset Winery and Great Basin Winery in a hard-won legal arrangement granted during the final hours of the 2017 legislative session. The so-called “alternating proprietorship” is common in other states, and sanctioned by federal alcohol authorities. It remained illegal in Nevada until State Senator Julia Ratti and others with Carson City connections agreed to push the change in 2017. Their just-in-time intervention changed history for northern Nevada’s wine scene.
The collective wine-selling establishment is informally dubbed “Wineries on 4th”. The three producers operate separately in the building’s production facility and tasting room, and they conduct separate marketing and promotional activities.
Bernardo’s partner in Basin and Range Wines, LLC (dba Basin and Range Cellars) is Wade Johnston, a geologist with a sophisticated approach to winemaking. Johnston has not indicated that he’s selling his stake. Bernardo isn’t yet announcing his asking price, because he’s still meeting with people who can assess the value of the business.
Basin and Range is currently the only one of Nevada’s nine commercial wineries producing 100 percent of its wine from Nevada-grown grapes. The partners lease a mature 6-acre vineyard in Douglas County that in 2019 yielded 21 tons of fruit. Nevada-grown content is critical to satisfy a fruit quota that’s tied by statute to a limit on production. With no fruit from outside the state, Basin and Range exceeds the quota, and is able to set itself apart in the greater wine world, where distinctive regional qualities are important to the wine’s character and brand identity. Story continues below…
Bernardo has been a key player in the development of Nevada’s winemaking community, and helped shift the region’s focus from home winemaking to commercial production. When asked, Bernardo shares stories about the two decades he spent working as a volunteer at the University of Nevada’s vineyards, where many of the region’s home winemakers were also initiated to viticulture. Using that experience, he began consulting to vineyard owners, notably with the owners of Churchill Winery in Fallon. He co-founded the nonprofit Nevada Vines & Wines with Bill Coplin, a retired engineer who nurtured a prolific vineyard at his Washoe Valley residence.
In 2015, the state of Nevada lifted a longstanding ban on urban wineries, so designated because their tasting rooms are not adjacent to vineyards. Bernardo, Johnston, and the other players who would ultimately inhabit Wineries on 4th were amatuer winemakers with commercial aspirations, and immediately scouted for a commercial space where they could share expenses. They fell in love with the building on Fourth Street, which would require significant upgrades. Tenant improvements had been accomplished at considerable cost in 2017 when the alternating proprietorship issue stopped the wineries from opening on schedule, and threw doubt for a time on whether the project would be able to continue. Story continues below…
Without the last-minute change to state law in 2017, the story might have turned out differently — probably badly, since it would be two years before the next legislative session could provide relief. As it stands, the wineries began to operate one at a time, starting in the late summer of 2017. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday each week, and hosts private events. Tasting room business appears to be brisk. Bernardo says he calculated a 5-year journey to profitability for Basin and Range, but the business will break into the black this year.
Since its grand opening in June of 2018 (Basin and Range was the second of the three to start operating), Bernardo has worked continuously behind the bar in the tasting room, in the vineyards, and in the barrel room. All while running a wine academy which is about to graduate its third class — 31 students who spent a year learning to tend vines and make wine. Despite doctor’s orders to slow-down, he has no intention of giving up teaching. In fact, he says, next year he’ll launch an advanced class, since some of the students have re-enrolled for more training after completing the one-year program.
Contact Joe Bernardo via email at: Joe Bernardo 65 at Yahoo dot com