So what is “juice”?  Obviously it means something a little different than the liquid obtained from fruits or vegetables.

According to the Oxford Dictionary:
: n., North American informal Influence or power, especially in a political or business context: “Lucchese was involved in the case and he had a certain amount of juice around the city”

So you see? As an ordinary person in a state where whom you know (or are obligated to) more often than not means more than what you know, I have no juice.

The Hearing, the Testimony

Wine_glassThe AB4 testimony was one of three on the docket on the morning of May 6. As I noted in this post, the simple bill had been, well, butchered in order to provide special protection to those who have already been here for some 20-odd years. While I’m happy that the population cap is being removed, I went into the hearing with a singular focus to get rid of the revisions that limited anyone who uses less than 25% Nevada grapes be limited to 1,000 cases.  As I understand it, that provision is to keep the big mega-wine giants from coming into Nevada with their juice (the grape kind) and passing it off as Nevada wine.  The result is those who want to make wine and who must import grapes are forced to stay small and at the Garagiste level. Unfair.

There were several speakers before me including Assemblyman Pat Hickey, the bill’s sponsor.  All of them touched on several points that I was planning to make, and that actually made my presentation a little easier. The problem was that we were limited to only three minutes – as a Toastmaster, I was looking forward to a 5-7 minute window.

Oh well. They made it clear that they’d heard about the 4-1/2 hour free-for-all that had taken place during the Assembly hearing.

I began by giving my credentials and my full support of the general focus of the bill. I then excoriated the 1,000 case limit imposed on those who want to start wineries but cannot because of the 25% Nevada grapes proviso. I pointed out that the number of acres planted to wine grapes is quite small, and imposing such a limit so soon after the passage of the bill was unrealistic and shortsighted. I noted that the entire economy of this state was being held hostage by a few people who were afraid of what the open market might bring.

My three minutes sped by in about 30 seconds, and when I finished, I was happy but vaguely dissatisfied. It was not quite the rock star presentation I had hoped for.  I wasn’t up to the standard I’d set when testifying in front of the Assembly. I took my seat with a frown.

The next to testify were those who “wholeheartedly” support the bill, but who feel that they need special protection from the California bogeymen.  Their lawyers and other special folk spoke sincerely that these pioneers of the wine industry in Nevada need to have special protections so that their work doesn’t fall by the wayside.  After all, they all said, they were first and wanted to be respected.  I groaned and shook my head. They have juice. I don’t.

And Then There was Mike

Mike was the rock star. Easily. Why?

Julian Castro quoteBecause Mike already owns a restaurant and a brewery in Washoe County and wants to be able to begin a winery.  He railed against the 1,000 case limit and broke down the dollars and cents as to why it was more than just protectionist legislation – it would ensure that the wine industry would not grow because no one would be able to afford to begin a winery under those restrictions.  As someone who already owns a business in the field, he was able to break it down in ways that I could not.  Costs of materials; costs of vineyards or leasing blocks of vineyards; labor; approval of labels; getting bonded, etc. All of that, he said, was why the 1,000 case limit would ensure that he, a resident of Nevada eager to start a winery and eventually use all Nevada grapes, wouldn’t be able to do so.

In other words, it would cost him more to run a winery than he could bring in. How is that conducive to success? How can that be welcoming to new wineries?

Then, he ranted: “What are they afraid of? Do they really think that Gallo is going to suddenly open Nevada wineries everywhere?” He really made their “fears” sound silly. Loved it.

He continued: “They have been here for over 20 years. They’re already ahead. What is the problem? Under all of the revisions, I can’t even open up a tasting room for my winery because I already have one for my brewery. How does that happen?”

He was fabulous, and he made points that I had only grasped at.

  • The existing wineries have been here for years. They have tons of experience under the old law, and now they’re far ahead of everyone else under the new law.
  • It seems as if the lip service being given to supporting the closing of the county population cap is just that – lip service. The protectionist revisions are adversarial to anyone who wants to open a winery in Nevada.
  • Why the special protection? What are they afraid of, indeed? Competition?

Seems that way, doesn’t it?

So What’s Next?

Wineaux Guy QuoteAt the time that I’m writing this, the Senate vote is just days away.  I have absolutely no doubt that it will pass. But, pass or not, I foresee very few new wineries opening because of the restrictions in place. In other words, the minuscule number of Nevada wineries will pretty much be the status quo.

For some reason that I can’t fathom, Nevada seems determined to crash headlong into wine obscurity, preferably at high speed with blinders on. It is akin to riding a horse backwards in the Kentucky Derby (which has over 60 wineries, by the way) and still expecting to win.

New tax laws are being escorted through the legislature like a hot date on prom night, and this bill which has the potential of bringing so much business – and its resulting revenue flow – into the state is looked upon as “minor.”  Meanwhile there are those who are scratching their heads and wondering why the economy in this state isn’t bouncing back the way that it should have been expected to do by now. 

If the current folks could understand that by becoming a serious wine country – talking about the entire state, of course – that will only raise them up in respect and stature.  By having tantrums over needing to be protected by the State, they’ve pretty much relegated themselves to the day trip module, an oddity outside of a vacation in Las Vegas or Reno.

The serious wine people will continue to pour their money into the states around us but not in Nevada. How unimaginative, self-centered, and provincial do you have to be in order to have an entire state turn its back on that type of revenue potential?

There’s hope that these restrictions can be tackled during the next session. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), there won’t be another legislative session until 2017.  If nothing else, that will show the impact of the restrictions of what had been a very simple bill.

As long as there were only the few words removed referring to the 100,000 population cap, there was hope. Now, Nevada will continue to lose ground to its neighbors.  To paraphrase an old saying, we’re on the inside, looking out.



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