NGGW and University of Nevada Forge a Partnership: Research, Guidance for Growers and a Wine Label for UNR

On a crisp October evening, the Nevada Grape Growers and Winemakers gathered for a harvest celebration. Stuart Michell, the group’s president, issued a no-business agenda. The proceedings were to be strictly social.

A chic menu of pairings was served in the Tamarack Junction’s newly dolled-up meeting facility. But as the attendees were focused on food, wine, and dinner companions, an impressive business arrangement was being hammered out behind the scenes. Story continues below.

NGGW president Stuart Michell (right, front) with friends, at the group’s annual harvest celebration on October 11, 2021. Scroll harvest dinner photos at the bottom of this story. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Jill Moe, Director at the Desert Farming Initiative. Photo from UNR

For months, some of NGGW’s most enterprising members had engaged in dialog with the University of Nevada. The resulting partnership may push Nevada’s winegrowing aspirations to the next level.

Barely a month after the harvest dinner, the parties have unveiled their collaboration, billed as a “Northern Nevada Demonstration Vineyard & Winemaking Network.” The agreement includes guidance for the region’s vineyard owners from the university’s department of agriculture.* It extends to a partnership in winemaking, with funding to support creation this fall of a branded Riesling for the university. There are also plans for a future blending competition and public tasting events.

The project started with informal talks between UNR’s agricultural research personnel and one of northern Nevada’s commercial wineries, said Jill Moe, Director of the university’s Desert Farming Initiative.

Nevada Sunset Winery’s Mike Steedman (center) speaks with Rod and Cindy Bruns on October 11, 2021 Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Moe  Alynn Delisle and Mike Steedman from Nevada Sunset Winery, who got the ball rolling. She noted that the Nevada Sunset co-owners put “a great deal of thought and energy into developing the project.” Delisle says the idea was to spark a more energetic relationship between the institution and serious winegrowers in the state.

More formal conversations followed, and a plan evolved. The academics will perform soil testing and small experiments, growing vines on various UNR’s agricultural sites. Monitoring crop performance within the micro-climates will produce useful information, “such as grape vine survival and vigor, berry development, and grape quality measurements at harvest,” a joint announcement says.

Alynn Delisle pours a taste of Nevada Sunset’s “Reno Sparkles” on December 12, 2019. Photo: @GreatBasinNews

Vineyard owners received the news enthusiastically at NGGW’s regular November meeting on Thursday. Several growers asked to involve their own vineyards in the experiments, which initially will concentrate on Riesling, Delisle told Grape Basin News.

“We want to set up an excel sheet for people that have existing vineyards with Riesling, to look at their history and their temperatures,” she said. “And going forward, to keep track of all the same parameters.”

A private label Riesling will be made by Nevada Sunset for the university, using grapes partially sourced from the Lenox Family Vineyard in Silver Springs. UNR  has no commercial winery license and can’t legally sell the wine, Delisle said. They will pour it at fundraising and other internal events

Retaining Knowledge from the Now Defunct
alley Road Vineyard

Many members of the region’s wine community got their first experience two decades ago, volunteering at UNR’s Valley Road vineyard. The lore among those volunteers is that the university lost interest in vine research after a disastrous pesticide misapplication destroyed half of the crop.

Bitter disappointment spread as the vineyard closed to volunteers, and people who’d spent hours of free time over the years tending vines saw them wither from neglect.

In 2018, Charles Schembre was hired to lead the Nevada Desert Farming Initiative. Schembre’s background in Napa Valley vineyard management raised hopes that he might rekindle institutional support for Nevada-grown wine. Story continues below.

One of two vineyards at the Desert Farming Initiative’s Valley Road property in November of 2018. The vineyards have since been removed. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

But efforts by Schembre, Jill Moe and others to revive the damaged vineyard were not successful.

“It just wasn’t in good shape,” Moe said. The team also concluded that the vineyard never recovered entirely from the pesticide incident.The Valley Road vines were torn out last spring, but Moe says she wanted to preserve whatever had been learned from the vineyard experiment.

“So we started talking about developing other vineyard sites,” she said. “And this idea of doing a network of demonstration sites in different micro-climates in northern Nevada, as a way to support the industry.”

The hope at NGGW now is that a university committed to wine research can help raise Nevada’s winemaking competence, and the industry’s promotional profile.

*The UNR entities involved in the partnership are University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, the Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Desert Farming Initiative.

Photos from the Nevada Grape Growers and Winemakers October 11 Harvest Dinner

Sommelier Danni Morris describes one of the featured wines on October 11, 2021. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

Grape Basin Winery’s Adam Hand with Debora Schultz on October 11, 2021. Photo: @GrapeBasinNews

An exuberant mood at the Tamarack Junction on October 11, 2021. 



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