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Nonprofit works to juice up the area’s wine-grape business

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz

A year-old non-profit started up by a group of wine lovers is harvesting support for the state’s nascent grape-growing industry.

Nevada Vines & Wines, established by 10 classmates in an ongoing wine course taught by Dr. Grant Cramer at the University of Nevada, Reno, found out last week it will likely receive a $40,000 a federally-funded specialty crops grant it applied for with the help of the state’s Department of Agriculture.

The money would cover the cost of planting one acre of vines, but will likely be used for myriad expenses.

“We’ve planted 1,900 vines already and part of the grant will be used for that,” says Dennis Eckmeyer, vice president of the non-profit and owner of Eagle Strategies LLC, a Reno-based financial advisor.

It may be used to put in some red grape vines in addition to the white Riesling grapes already planted, says Eckmeyer. Or to transport some donated wine-making equipment from Roseville, Calif., or to begin conversion of a dairy barn into a winery at UNR’s Main Station Farm where the non-profit sowed its first vines in April.

“We planted them on the 100 acres that just got approved for rezoning,” laughs Eckmeyer, referring to 104 acres of the 1,000-acre UNR farm that the Reno City Council recently rezoned for commercial development. “We planted on one acre smack dab in the middle of it.”

Commercial development there may be a ways off, but so are the fruits of Nevada Vines & Wines labors. The group has a long-term goal of planting 10 acres at the UNR farm and to bottle wine as well as sell the grapes for others to bottle.

But its broader objective is to become a resource to anyone who wants to get into the business in the hopes of building vineyards here similar to eastern Washington’s $8.6 billion industry, which employs 30,000 people.

“That’s what got me excited because we have better environment (for growing grapes) than eastern Washington,” says Eckmeyer.

One issue here, though, are early and late frosts in the spring and fall, just the type of problem Nevada Vines & Wines hopes to solve as part of its role as a resource for the homegrown industry. The group may use part of the federal grant to investigate two types of system – one based on misting and another utilizing fans – to prevent grapes from freezing.

The non-profit is now waiting on UNR to complete a memorandum of understanding for a five-year agreement to use the school’s land. The non-profit is also researching what changes to state law it needs to promote to the 2015 Nevada Legislature to bolster the industry.

And it’s trying to garner broad support. The group made a presentation to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and others and is trying to get on the governor’s calendar to meet with him directly. It’s tentatively scheduled a ribbon cutting for its one-acre vineyard on July 20 during a wine-blending workshop and has invited Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Mark Amodei and others.

Perhaps most important, though, Nevada Vines & Wines is looking for financial support through its web site – http://www.nvandw.com – and future fundraising events. The group is promoting the idea of a tiered donation, starting with $25 for adopting a vine and up to $42,000 for sponsoring an entire acre.

“If we can prove we can grow this stuff commercially it would be a boon to Nevada,” says Eckmeyer.