Nevada Wines - Part One

“Visiting the experimental winery at UNR is a must, put it on your Thursday calendar!”

There’s a groundswell of interest building in Nevada wines, and this is in part due to the work being done by Dr. Grant Cramer at University of Nevada-Reno, and in part by intrepid vintners and winemakers in Fallon and Genoa. Right now, we are going to offer you a glimpse of the wonderful work in UNR. Parts Two and Three will focus on Nevada vintners and wineries, which you’ll see in future columns.

What can be done on 2 acres of vineyards in arid Reno? A lot. That’s being proven by Dr. Cramer’s eonology and viticulture crew. Each Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., you too are invited to the wine tasting and study at UNR's Experimental Winery. It is in a blue metal building behind the NV genomics center at 910 Valley Road, Reno. When the sliding gate is open, go on in.

In the winery, you’ll find 30-40 folding chairs set up on the winery floor, and a smiling Dr. Cramer and his student assistants. No doubt you will be greeted by Kitty Spreeman, an extremely knowledgeable lab technician who makes it all run smoothly. Take a seat as near to the front table as you can. Pay your $10 class fee, and take a little extra cash because you’ll no doubt want a Nevada Wines baseball cap or polo shirt. I did, and I’m proud to wear it too!

Settle in for a wonderful tasting experience of 12-14 different bottles each week. The Experimental Winery makes its own wines and blends right there on site. They have a “library” of wines going back to 2003, and they often do vertical tastings of the same wine from different years, and comparisons of wines from well-(sufficiently)-watered vines and drought-stressed vines. Sometimes the event features blind tastings or comparisons to commercial wines. Regardless of what you taste, you’ll be asked to fill out a tasting sheet so that the Winery can collect evaluation data of the wines as they age.
The wines are all estate wines; they come from grapes planted as long ago as 1995 on the two acres on Valley Road at the Agricultural Experiment Station. The wines made include reds such as Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Meunier, and whites, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Semillion, and Sauvignon Blanc .
The vineyard is itself an experiment. Vines are growing under conditions of well-water, and drought-stressed.

There is an ongoing study to see if drought-stressed vines increase the amount of resveratrol, which is now considered to be a heart-healthy element of red wines. “Resveratrol might be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces "bad" cholesterol and prevents blood clots,” says a news note from the Mayo Clinic.

The grapes from these vines at UNR are tested for many things (Phenolics, brix) and the buds of the vines undergo scrutiny too, including testing for different hormone levels. It’s all very sexy for the wine lover!

If you want to taste these wines, you must come to the Winery. By Nevada law, the college is not allowed to sell its wines in Washoe County. Upcoming tastings are Pinot Blanc on March 18, Cabernet Franc on March 25, Semillon on April 1, Cabernet Sauvignon on April 8, Chardonnay on April 15, Syrah on April 22, Riesling on April 29 and Lemberger on May 6.

In addition to tasting these types of Nevada wines, you’ll be treated to a discussion on such topics as pruning and trellis design in the vineyard, and vineyards of the world.

Dr Cramer, Kitty and the crew would love to see you there! For more information, go to Or email Kitty Spreeman for more information:

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in March 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

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