Local Oenophiles (And Friends) Blend a Wine for University of Nevada

It was like a high school chemistry class for grownups. With sips of alcohol, and no grades.

The teams, seated four to a table, surveyed the equipment before them. Beakers and tall cylinders to measure liquid (metric system, please!), sharpies for taking notes, three bottles of red wine, and an assortment of glassware.

It was a party, and a contest. The winning team would combine three Nevada Sunset wines to create a blend for the University of Nevada’s private label. It was also a commitment ceremony of sorts – formal recognition of a new partnership between Nevada’s wine producers and the university.

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Contestants blend wines in the Nevada Sunset barrel room on February 16, 2022. Photo: Grape Basin News

The contestants went to work. Blending and tasting. Tossing out their creations and blending again. Nevada Sunset Winery provided a trio of wines offering a range of characteristics and alcohol content — a 2019 Prima Tivo, a 2019 Graziano, and a 2019 Lemberger.

Grower Christy Lenox of Lenox Ranch in Silver Springs measures her blend on February 16, 2022. Photo: Grape Basin News

The guests included several experienced winemakers and others with well-developed palates. As the barrel room buzzed with conversation, body language became the clearest hint of progress. Wrinkled noses or thumbs down were sure signs a blend would be dumped. Extended sniffing and jubilant toasts signaled success.

While blending is a creative and subjective exercise, remembering the recipe is critical. One team member at each table kept notes on the combinations.

“You’ve really got to pay attention,” said Nevada Sunset proprietor Alynn Delisle, who’d provided paper table cloths for jotting notes about the various wine combinations.

UNR’s Shauna Lemieux and Dr. Grant Cramer  on February 16, 2022. Photo: Grape Basin News

“We had a dry run,” she said, in preparation for the blending contest. “We realized we were going to need a spreadsheet.” So they built one to record the final formula from each team, both in milliliters and the percentages of each wine in their blend.

The teams wrapped up, sending precisely measured (200 milliliter) samples of their finished products to the judges.

UNR and winemakers: working together again

The dean of UNR’s College of Agriculture* was a contestant, and co-host of the party. Dr. William Payne’s table didn’t win, but the blending was fun, he said.

“It’s a significant and original event, and I hope we can do it for years to come,” he said.

Claudine Wharton judging the blends on February 16, 2022. Photo: Grape Basin News

To the members of Nevada’s wine community, this gathering was about business more than fun. It marked a concrete step toward realizing Nevada’s potential as a wine producing state. In virtually every state with a flourishing wine sector, there’s a relationship between the wine business and a university.

An agreement was reached last fall for such mutual support. The vision is rooted in beneficial vineyard research at the university, with synergies that extend to making wine.

Payne says the plan honors decades of work done by Dr. Grant Cramer, the UNR professor, now emeritus, who’s been a proponent of involving the university in viticulture and wine production.

“This is the realization of one of his visions,” Payne told Grape Basin News. “For many years he did the basic and then applied research. His vision was to see the wine industry take hold and thrive in Nevada.”

In addition, Payne looks forward to community engagement.

“There are many, many facets around cultivating and producing wine,” he said. “We do that with a view toward having an economic impact and improving people’s lives.”

UNR Red: Table #8 creates the winning blend

Down the hall from the barrel room, a well-qualified judging panel sniffed and sipped. Greg Ross and Phil Silver are veterans of the California wine business. The third judge, Claudine Wharton, became an expert as she traveled extensively through the world’s wine regions. Wharton occasionally serves as an evaluator for Nevada Sunset’s wines.

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The winning team at Table 8 (clockwise from left): Steve Bamberger, Becky Bamberger, Karen Pritsos, Chris Pritsos. Photo: Grape Basin News

Cheers went up from Table 8 as the decision was announced. Longtime winemakers Steve and Becky Bamberger had produced the winning blend with UNR scientists Chris and Karen Pritsos. The Bambergers have captured competition medals for their own wines, which are made in collaboration with several friends.

Second place went to Table 2. Amanda Burden and Jaci Goodman, co-publishers of the region’s primier food and beverage magazine, were on the team.

The winning recipe is a secret for now. Nevada Sunset will use Table 8’s formula to make 25 cases of 2022 UNR Red – name to be announced. Lacking an alcohol license, UNR can’t sell the wine, but will use it for fundraising and special events, along with a Riesling produced last year by Nevada Sunset.

Dr. Payne envisions a future foodie event featuring meats, vegetables and wine, all from the College of Agriculture.

* College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR)

Second place Table 2 included Edible Reno-Tahoe co-publishers Amanda Burden and Jaci Goodman. Photo: Grape Basin News

Dr. William Payne of UNR’s College of Agriculture was a blending contestant on February 16, 2022. Photo: Grape Basin News


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