Revised Nevada laws pave the way for urban wineries.
WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO
Mike Steedman and Alynn Delisle of Nevada Sunset Winery, the first winery to open in Washoe County in decades,
at the Wineries on 4th Street tasting facility in Reno, with Mike's dog, Nike
Pop the corks! Open the spigots! Wineries are finally legal in Reno.
Perplexed? Surprised? You’re not alone. The fact is, until quite recently, it actually was against the law to operate a commercial winery anywhere in Washoe County. Same was true for Clark County.
Why? An obscure, decades-old Nevada law required that wineries be “located in a county whose population is 100,000 or less.” That relegated Nevada wineries solely to rural counties (see related story).
Starting in 2014, Mike Steedman, his business partner, Alynn Delisle, and a small, dedicated group of aspiring urban winemakers, set out on a quest: to get those 10 little words deleted from the law. One sentence was all that kept these passionate vintners from realizing their dreams of opening wineries in Reno. Ten words. How tough could that be? Steedman laughs at the question.
“Tougher than you think!” he says.
Working with the nonprofit group Nevada Vines & Wines and the political action committee Nevada Wine Coalition, and with support from local distributors, rural wineries, and several sympathetic state legislators, this small group fought the good fight.
Three and a half years, two legislative sessions, and piles of paperwork later, the 10 words are gone, and two new bills (AB-4 in 2015 and AB-431 in 2017) have been signed into law. The situation is far from perfect, Steedman says, citing some unrealistic restrictions included in the bills. But at least it’s a beginning.
Steedman and Delisle located a sizeable commercial space on East Fourth Street, in Downtown Reno’s quirky, trendy Old Brewery District that proved to be the perfect spot for their newly created Nevada Sunset Winery — with plenty of room to spare. Enough room, in fact, for two other wineries to occupy that same building.
Under federal regulations, and thanks to the newly passed 2017 state law, up to four Nevada wineries can be located under one roof in an arrangement called an alternating proprietorship.
Each winery must operate independently; carry its own licenses; pay separate taxes; and have its own dedicated tanks, barrels, fermentation space, and bonded area for storing its wine.
What they can share, on an alternating basis, is production space and equipment, such as processing and bottling machinery. They also can share a wine-tasting room on the premises. The major benefit to this arrangement is that independent wineries are able to reduce many expenses such as rent, utilities, and production equipment costs.
Joe Bernardo and Wade Johnston, owners of Basin & Range Cellars, and Adam Hand, owner of Great Basin Winery, also set up operations in the Fourth Street building. Then there were three, which was a pretty big deal. Previously, there had been just three in the entire state: Churchill Vineyards in Fallon and two other wineries in Pahrump.
“When we got our state licenses, we literally doubled the number of wineries in Nevada!” Steedman says.
On Sept. 15, Nevada Sunset Winery held its grand opening, giving it the distinction of being the first urban winery in Reno, Washoe County, and Nevada.
By the time you read this, Great Basin Winery should be serving some of its light- and medium-bodied reds in the tasting room as well. Its full-bodied reds will take more time, Hand says.
Bernardo and Johnston of Basin & Range Cellars are committed to making 100 percent of their wines from their 7.5-acre Minden vineyard — the largest in Nevada, according to Bernardo. They’re hoping to have wines for sale later in 2018.
At press time, the three wineries were operating together under the working name Wineries on 4th Street.
Patience is required for winemaking. After years of fighting outdated laws, these folks have had plenty of practice. All the laws, licenses, paperwork, and construction were just the means to an end for these intrepid vintners.
“The reason we’re all in this is because we like to make wine. That’s all we wanted to do,” Johnston says. “Now we’re there and things are a lot happier.”
Let’s drink to that!
Reno writer Barbara Twitchell enjoyed touring these urban wineries almost as much as she enjoyed all the wine tasting involved. Of course, it was all done in the name of research.
Wineries on 4th Street
415 E. Fourth St., Ste. B, Reno
For details and tasting room hours, visit Nevadasunsetwinery.com.