The George Washington University research paper, SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS VERSUS CONSTITUENCY REPRESENTATION written by Amitai Etzioni begins with the following Abstract (excerpted): 

Three additions are suggested to the study of interest groups and their role in a democracy. First, different types of interest groups are recognized; in particular, special interest groups, which have a narrow social base, concentrate on limited issues, and benefit mainly their own members, are distinguished from constituency representing organizations which have a broad social base, address a wide range of issues, and balance members’ interests with a strong commitment to the commonweal. (1)

Why did I begin with an academic research quote instead of glorying in the fact that the winery bill, AB4, passed unanimously in the Nevada Assembly?  Because after my “Oh Yay” moment came dismay and a stream of WTFs as I read the “revised” bill.

I mean, really?!?

So how did I go from ecstasy to dismay faster than a funny car at the Winternationals?

Because a reading of the bill showed that the special interests, as defined in the Abstract of the above study, had had their way and their fingerprints were clearly all over the so-called “revisions” of the bill.  No wonder it passed.  It was “safe” for the legislators, and to be fair, despite their focus and study, really know very little, especially since “special interests” may be the ones who had their ear.

Here’s the “revised” section of what was originally a pretty straightforward bill:

[2.] 3. A winery that is issued a winemaker’s license pursuant to NRS 369.200 on or after October 1, 2015:

(a) If 25 percent or more of the wine produced, blended or aged by the winery is produced, blended or aged from fruit grown in this State, may sell at retail or serve by the glass, on its premises, wine produced, blended or aged by the winery.

(b) If less than 25 percent of the wine produced, blended or aged by the winery is produced, blended or aged from fruit grown in this State, may sell at retail or serve by the glass, on its premises, not more than 1,000 cases of wine produced, blended or aged by the winery per calendar year. (emphasis mine)

So what that says is that beginning October 1 of this year, unless a winery uses 25% Nevada grapes, it cannot produce more than 1,000 cases of wine a year. What that does is effectively keep the wine industry in Nevada at its current level and ensures that it will never grow. Why? Because no one will want to begin a winery if they are doomed to stay at the Garagiste level.

Garagiste? What’s that?

Garagisten, Fr. – A term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow the “rules.”

By modern definitions, it means an entrepreneurial winery making less than 1,000 cases a year.

No one wants to begin a business knowing that the laws in place are there to make sure that he is not able to succeed. That’s what the so-called revisions do. It ensures that success – beginning immediately – will be a hard thing for a new Nevada winemaker to achieve.  Nevada grapes for multiple commercial wineries just aren’t there.

Elusive Nevada Grapes

Angela Merkel Quote

It’s not that there aren’t Nevada grapes; there are. The problem is that because the current law is so restrictive, there aren’t enough Nevada grapes.  I asked people who would know about the number of vineyard acres in Nevada, and there’s no official number.  Every state that has a wine association has data on that state’s vineyard acres of vinis vinifera, e.g., wine grapes.  This state does not.

There aren’t a lot of vineyards (if any) at this time in the southern part of the state. However, the areas around Logandale, Overton, and North Las Vegas are already growing crops, so I’m sure that it would only be a matter of time before they’re ready to begin tackling the challenge of vineyards. While there are several sizable vineyards in Nye County, those are nevertheless limited in acreage. There are largely “backyard” vineyards up north, and some farmers are just discovering the water saving ability of grapes and the potential to actually make a living from farming them. The backyard vineyards are on plots that are essentially single digits or less of acreage, and as stated above, don’t have the bandwidth to immediately supply grapes for commercial wineries of any size.

October is “immediately.”  By mandating that those who use 25% or less Nevada grapes in their wines are immediately restricted to a production level of 1,000 cases is antipathetic to winery industry success. If the law mandated that, say, seven years from the signing of this bill, if a winery is making wine of a lower percentage of Nevada grapes, its production would be limited to 3,000 cases, then there is a possibility that there would be a successful wine industry.

The way the revisions are written now…no way.

So Who the Hell am I?

The legislators don’t understand that each state that has a thriving wine industry, i.e., every state around Nevada, wants to use its own grapes.  The French term terroir means a “sense of place”; in other words, when an aficionado tastes a wine, s/he can tell where the wine comes from. Winemakers from each state want to ensure that their wines are distinctive and speak of the “place” or the state of origin.  Winemakers try to reduce the amount of grapes from other states as much as possible because those grapes don’t speak of the state where the wine is made.

Pouring WineWhen I taste, for instance, a Pinot Noir, and it’s light in body and color, its nose is more earth than fruit, and it has a long, minerally finish, then I know that I’m most likely tasting a wine from Oregon. Why? Because Pinot Noir wines made from Oregon grapes have a specific “somewhereness” about them, and it sings on the eye, the nose, and the palate. It’s going to have very different characteristics from a Pinot Noir made from grapes originating from the Russian River Valley of California.

As I noted during the testimony in front of the Assembly, I am a level 1 Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, and a Certified Specialist of Wine, Certified Sommelier, French Wine Scholar, and Wine & Spirits Educational Trust candidate. In addition, I’m a member of the American Wine Society, Society of Wine Educators, Guild of Sommeliers, French Wine Society, and The Wine Century Club.  My long-term goal is to become the first female African-American Master of Wine.

So I know my s**t.

OF COURSE wineries that begin here will want to ensure that they eventually are able to make as much wine from Nevada grapes as possible. But to shackle them from the outset with unrealistic time frames and limits in their productive ability is ludicrous, short-sighted, and punitive.

The special interests’ desire to be protected from outside competition may derail what could become a thriving industry with dozens – if not hundreds – of wineries located in this state. There will be no increase in restaurants, hotels, spas, coffee shops, shuttle services, gift shops (just to name a few) if there are only two or so wineries to serve. The demographic of wine lovers (of which I am one and spend way more money than I should in California) just won’t come here if the number of wineries does not change. In order to bring in the type of growth that we’d like to see – and the accompanying revenue stream – there has to be a certain amount of freedom allowed for the market to be able to expand.

Even the Successful Could Fail Under the “Revisions”

There is a winery in California called Siduri. Siduri is a well-respected winery and makes exquisite Pinot Noir and Syrah wines. They import 100% of their grapes from various places which include California and Oregon; they have no vineyards, and the vineyards that are close to their winery do not necessarily have the particular grapes that they need for their wines. Their highly sought-after wines are created from grapes that come from, well, everywhere. Under the revised AB4 bill, this winery would not be able to successfully conduct business in Nevada.

If a winery wanted to open here and use Pinot Noir grapes – which by their very nature would probably not do well in Nevada and would have to be imported – they would not be allowed to do so under the current revised bill.

I know that this is long-winded, but this is incredibly important and I hate to see all of the work that’s been done to “free the wines” in Nevada get derailed by those whose interests are not necessarily the welfare of the state of Nevada.

I have no special interests. Despite my certifications and knowledge, I will make no money from this. I have no ulterior motives. I have no “juice.” My friends and acquaintances are regular people. My entire focus is to see that the wine law in Nevada is open to whoever wants to take the risk to begin a winery in this state. This is the only shot that we have for two years. Let’s get it right and not allow those who do have special interests prevail. Let’s think of the future of the entire state of Nevada.

(1)Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 8, pages 171-195. Copyright @ 1985 by JAI Press Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. ISBN: 0-89232-571-2

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for the update. Interesting just how Southern is still in full control of NV wine distribution even with more smaller distributors around.

    We left CA, for a number of reasons, and I have been looking around to see if a winery in Las Vegas can succeed, still not sure how many serious wine drinkers there are here, lack of great wine selection in shops is a worry.

    Made some serious Pinot and Syrah in Sebastopol, just not sure if trucking the grapes here in 100F heat is worth the effort. Not that trucking pretty much everything else would be an easy task, either, barrels included.

    Know Adam, for many years now, great people and great wines. Although not sure I’d call buying grapes in CA “importing”. Most of us did and do, but all of CA is considered “local”, IMO.

    Backyard vineyards is exactly what I’d be looking for for a winery startup in Las Vegas area, time to do some search based on your notes above. If you have some pointers please email me at your convenience.

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