Bill Loken, co-owner of Pahrump Valley Winery
Bill Loken, co-owner of Pahrump Valley Winery

If you recall, I was embroiled in quite a battle a few months ago. I visited the Grant Sawyer Building downtown to testify on behalf of the new wine bill. The gist of the problem was that there was a desire to change the county population cap for wineries from 100,000 to unlimited.

What that means is that while all of the smaller counties in Nevada could have a winery if they chose, they were illegal in the counties of Clark and Washoe. Many of us felt that this wasn’t fair, and Assemblyman Pat Hickey of Reno presented AB4 to change that.

The initial version of the bill was pretty straightforward. It simply eliminated the population cap. However, there were those who felt that simply eliminating the population restriction was not enough, and more had to be done in order to protect Nevada interests.

One of those parties who was concerned about Nevada’s interests were the owners of Pahrump Valley Winery. Bill and Gretchen Loken were quite concerned that the simple bill change as presented by Assemblyman Hickey would have California wineries, vineyards, or their agents flooding Nevada and passing off California wine as Nevada wine. Or, even worse, putting a “Nevada Wine” label on a cheap California wine and killing the fledgling wineries of Nevada.

Their view interested me enough to send me to Pahrump Valley Winery where I had the privilege of spending a day with Bill and Gretchen. I have to reluctantly admit that was insightful, educational, and delicious.

I spent the day talking with both of them, even though Gretchen had to attend to winery duties, spending a lot of time adjusting the filters as the wine was being filtered prior to bottling. Bill gave me their history as the relatively new owners of PVW.

Bill is taller than I had envisioned, and has a western cowboyesque demeanor about him.  Gretchen looks about 15 years younger than her age, which will remain unstated because I don’t believe her. 🙂

PVW’s Old Reputation

When Bill and Gretchen decided to purchase the winery, it was more or less done on a whim. They did the proper research, of course, and decided to take the chance. Bill was a very successful real estate developer/agent and knew what property values were, how to run a business, and he was prepared for the hard work ahead. Neither one of them was very experienced as far as wines were concerned (like most of us when we begin), but they were determined to learn about what the heck they had gotten themselves into.

They received lots of advice, of course. Everything from the basic running of a winery all the way to, “you have to change the name.”

While the previous iteration of PVW was well known for its cheap and cheerful wines, they knew that they wanted to do more. They quickly became passionate about the possibilities of what could happen in Nevada, and they have been working very hard ever since.

The Legislative Process

If you read any of my previous articles on the legislative process, you will probably recall that I voiced my doubts about the IQs of some of the legislature members. Bill quickly disabused me of that notion.

“They are not stupid, they are overworked. They have a lot to do in a very short period of time and they work incredible hours.”

Nevada ‘s government is run by everyday people – a citizen’s government – and that means that it’s only in session a few months every other year. Naturally, as Nevada’s population grows there is a demand for more and more legislation. This means that they have to do in a six-month period of time what the same legislature had to do 20 years ago when there was a much smaller population.

We talked about the different wine/winery laws in other states, and he enlightened me on quite a few things. One of those things was that as far as these laws are concerned, Nevada is the most open, the most unregulated, and actually, the most free.

They told me how the other states’ bills were written and how they were far more restrictive than the laws here in Nevada. My visit to PVW was in late July. I have spent much of the interim reading other states’ wine laws. They have ranged from practically nonexistent (Alaska) to incomprehensible (Arizona) to Defcon 5 (California, Oregon). Many of them were indecipherable and illogical. I am sure that many of them were written with the help of people who had no idea how wineries run, people who have special interests, or people who just thought that they’d write stuff as a legacy. I will not claim to have read all of the wine laws in all 50 states; it just was not possible and my brain and eyeballs would not allow that kind of torture.

The amendments to the bill were done for several reasons, but primarily to ensure that the Nevada “brand” remained intact. In other words, to ensure that anyone who decides to make wine in this state and to label it as Nevada wine must have some skin in the game. Using Nevada grapes is key to the success of Nevada wines and wineries.

The upshot is that after a lot of negotiation, all parties – including Assemblyman Hickey and the other wineries – were all on board with the changes. While even now I admit to still having an issue with the 1,000 case limit, I can agree that the changes ensure that people who make Nevada wine must have some skin in the game. I don’t have a problem with that at all.

What Does the Future Hold?

So Nevada Wine Excursion45Pahrump Valley Winery’s tasting room is lined with shelves of bottles, all with ribbons ranging showcasing their awards. Their high point was seeing their 2010 Primitivo receive the winery’s first Double Gold award, twice! And there’s more to come in the future.

While their bread and butter is still the cheap and cheerful, they have been aiming since day one toward awards, ratings, and recognition.

While Charleston Peak is their wine made primarily from California grapes, their line of wines made from Nevada grapes is called Nevada Ridge. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a couple of bottles, one of which is their then unreleased Syrah, and after spending the day tasting their more serious wines, I can say that they are a contender. (apologies to Marlon Brando).

I came away with a new appreciation and excitement for the possibilities in Nevada. To be clear, we will never, ever be another California. It’s not because we don’t have the ability or the climate, but when over 80% of the state is in federal hands, that puts huge limitations on acreage alone. I have no doubt that if the state’s lands actually belonged to the state, we could be great competition. At the very least, we would have our other neighbors who surround us (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona) worrying a bit!

There are big plans in the future for Pahrump Valley Winery. I am very excited to see what the future holds for them. The plans that they are putting into place are jaw-dropping and will give a wake-up call to those who have dismissed Nevada wines. Because many of those plans are still in the, well, planning stage, I am not at liberty to discuss them. But keep a close eye on what is happening here in Southern Nevada and I think that you will be amazed and pleased.

By the way, the famous annual Pahrump Valley Winery Grape Stomp is taking place at the winery on October 3 and 4. It appears that the team spots are already sold out! Even if you don’t stomp, a trip to the winery on that weekend will be loaded with fun, food, and wine!  Their (award-winning) Symphony restaurant is not to be missed.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m happy to be a friend of Pahrump Valley Winery, and will continue to support them and all of the wineries in Nevada.  The numbers are few, but the potential is unlimited!

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