From Couch Potato to Wine Activist in 3.5 Seconds

About a month ago, I was just your average wine aficionado.

And then a coworker who is in the Nevada state assembly (not in my district) reminded us at The Day Job™ that he was going to go up to Carson City for the legislative session. That reminded me of an article I had seen in December about a winery bill that had been proposed by another state assemblyman. I read the proposed bill, and the rest, as they say, is history. I went from a relatively non-political person to someone who spoke to the Nevada Legislative Assembly.

Why? The answer is simple. Every other state has some sort of wine industry going on. Even Alaska! The only state that has fewer wineries than us is Delaware, which is the smallest state second only to Rhode Island. The entire state of Delaware at 1,948.54 square miles could fit a couple of times into the land area of Clark County, which is over 8,000 square miles. Rhode Island, on the other hand, does have more wineries than Nevada. How embarrassing is that.

My Turn – Connecting with My Inner Toastmaster

I spoke from the Grant Sawyer State Building here in Las Vegas. I had been prepared to fly up to Carson City, but I was told by the great folks who are in support of this bill to testify from Las Vegas instead. They said that I would have a better chance of testifying from Las Vegas than I would have in Carson City, because they were expecting a crowd of people and I could get lost in the mix.

As it turned out, they were correct. I was the sole advocate testifying from Las Vegas. In Carson City on the other hand, there were more people than there was time to let them speak. The number of people who were against the bill was relatively small; there were only about eight.

What I found interesting was that they were not against the bill per se, but they wanted to make sure that any winery in the state of Nevada had the goal of using Nevada grapes. Is it possible? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. It is.

As an aside, I will be reviewing a Nevada wine that was made from Nevada grapes and won double gold at a wine competition. Double gold. Nevada wine. Who’d a thunk.

When it was my turn to speak, I had to disabuse some of the rather random theories that some of the assembly people were laboring under. One was that since there are 18 counties in Nevada, that there’s a possibility that there could be 18 wineries.

Really? My eyes rolled back into my head so many times that I had eye pain by the end of the hearing.

One of the big problems we have with that theory is that although there are 18 counties that could legally have wineries under the current law, most of the state is under federal jurisdiction. The state is large, and there’s just not a lot of city between Las Vegas and Reno. With over 84% of the state being in federal hands, there are limited areas where vineyards could be planted.  I reasoned that this is why it’s time to open up the counties that are banned from having wineries under the current law. The other ideal, of course, would be have state lands actually be state lands instead of federal lands.

But I digress.

I took the opportunity to lay some important knowledge down. First of all, as I told them, nobody goes on a wine vacation to visit a winery. I let them know that when I go on wine vacations, I know that I am going for an extended period of time. I generally visit for an entire weekend or more, I get a hotel or rent a house, I go to restaurants, I rent a car to get there, I buy airplane tickets to fly there, and I buy wine from various wineries. I generously contribute to another state’s economy because there are few wine resources here.

Wine Folk are Different

I also told them that the people who spend a lot of money on wines and wine vacations are not the same people who are going to spend a lot of money in the casinos. What they are looking at is a possibility of bringing in an entirely new group of tourists into Nevada. As I noted, people come to Nevada anyway. Why not bring in a whole new, money-spending demographic?

You can’t do it under the current laws because no one will come.  The serious wine people come to Las Vegas for the big wine events (Vegas Uncork’d, Wine Spectator Grand Tour, etc.). Otherwise, they’re in Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Oregon, Washington, you name it. Where they’re not is in Nevada.

The facts are that people who visit the wineries here are doing it as a part of their trip to Vegas. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were coming specifically to visit the wineries.

The reason no one will come I noted, is because everything is so spread out and there’s no reason for them to come. People really need a reason to have a wine vacation, and the only way they’ll take one is that there are lots of wineries around.

In addition, I said that because of the fact that the current law was strangling free trade, the state was taking the position of smothering the growth of businesses and therefore the economy. The winery industry in each state is based on focus, determination, and people’s willingness to take a risk. The current law puts an artificial barrier in front of people, and as a result the Nevada winery industry is pathetic in comparison to even the states around us. It is even pathetic compared to Utah, which has a decidedly adversarial attitude toward its alcohol-related industries.

Next:  The Folks Who Are Against the Change in the Law. A Surprise.

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