Obscure law turns winery plans to sour grapes

An obscure law that confines vineyard wine sales to rural counties put the kibosh on some professors' plans to fund their agricultural research facility at University of Nevada, Reno.

Twelve varieties of grapes are plump and ready for harvest at the one-acre Valley Road Vineyard and Experimental Winery. The 1,000 vines are capable of becoming 2,000 bottles of wine, says Dr. Grant Cramer, professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

But officials believe a state law passed in 2005 limits by-the-glass sales of wine to wineries located in counties with less than 100,000 population.

The bill was championed by Alfredo Alonso, lobbyist for Southern Wine and Spirits, a large distributor operating in 11 states, who brought the bill to the attention of Barbara Buckley, chairwoman of the Committee on Commerce and Labor. She brought the bill before the State Assembly, according to records at the Legislative Council Bureau in Carson City.

The bill came before the state legislature the same year that Frank-Lin Distillers Products Ltd., a large California company, planned to build a facility at the Reno-Tahoe Industrial Center in Storey County. It also planned to sell its blended scotch at retail. So

the bill also prohibited a company from both blending and selling. Frank-Lin has not relocated here.

"This past year we wanted to go commercial, to help fund the research," says Cramer. "This statute prevents commercial wineries from forming in Washoe County." While Valley Road's potential output is small, he says, some people would be willing to pay top dollar for the experimental winery's offering at auction.

Valley Road Winery may focus on four varietals in the future. This year, a false spring brought balmy weather in March followed by a late, hard freeze; only four varietals Merlot, Lemberger, Riesling and Gewu..rtztraimer withstood the unusual weather well. Global warming could make that weather pattern normal, says Cramer.

However, the Valley Road Vineyard does plan to hold another wine-tasting event an activity not limited to rural counties to raise research funds.

In fact, Cramer hopes to find a lawyer in attendance willing to take on the work of changing that law pro bono.


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