Budding wine grape growers are turning Reno-Tahoe into Grapezilla.
WRITTEN BY AMANDA BURDEN
PHOTOS BY JACI GOODMAN
For more than 44 years, Bill Patterson has loved horticulture. For much of that time, the Sparks resident also has loved wine. Those passions drove him to Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., where he became director of horticulture in 1971 and taught horticulture until 1982. In the late ’70s, on and off, he made wine with fellow faculty members and joined several wine-tasting groups. In 2005, he wrote the curriculum for a viticulture degree at the college. And in 1990, he joined two Bay Area winemaking groups, and, ever since, has been creating wine on a regular basis. Today, he tends 100 wine-grape plants in his Spanish Springs backyard, which he planted three years ago.
“I like making wine and drinking wine,” he says. “But, more than that, [my inspiration for growing is] it bugs me that people aren’t growing grapes adapted to our area.”
His goal is to find individual clones from plants grown locally that are best adapted to Nevada’s climate. (Plants produced in California don’t grow well here. Most Nevada-grown vines come from Washington state.) He believes there is no reason that we cannot develop better cultivars here.
Patterson may discover varieties that grow well in our region sooner than later. This is because he has inspired his neighbors who now grow wine grapes, too. Under his tutelage, about five of his Pebble Creek subdivision neighbors have planted in excess of 450 vines, with plans to plant more.
“They are all mini-research stations,” he says. “It’s Grapezilla. Everyone has their own grapes. The effort will help us figure out what grows well. Ultimately, we can create local stock.”
Some of the varieties that he’s trying so far are Lemberger, Marquette, and cabernet franc. They are growing well, but he does not yet know how they taste because he has to wait two more years before he can harvest and press the grapes from his plants. His ultimate goal is to build a pinot-style blend from Nevada grapes. He adores pinot.
It turns out that wine grapes grow well in the Reno-Tahoe region. The endeavor is not without its challenges. But locals growing their own wine grapes, and making their own wine, find the rewards are well worth the obstacles. Plus, there are other benefits.
“Vineyards are less expensive than other landscape solutions, use less water, can be incorporated easily, look good, and are fun,” Patterson adds.
Beyond the Spanish Springs klatch, locals are growing wine grapes in Reno’s Hidden Valley and Windy Hill areas, as well as other pockets throughout the region.
Nevada Vines & Wines
In 2013, an organization was formed to support their efforts. Members of Nevada Vines & Wines promote viticulture and winemaking in Northern Nevada, including private and commercial ventures. The group also organizes an annual backyard vineyard tour, which features a self-guided trip through private backyards. Last year’s tour brought visitors to Patterson, as well as seven other homeowners.
Dave and Atanda Clark, both retired, tend three varieties in their Sparks vineyard. They also are making wine. Recently, they invested in equipment to crush, press, and de-stem their grapes. They bottle and cork their wines as well.
“They grow well here, but we lose a lot each winter,” Dave says. “If it’s wet, we get mold. If it freezes, we lose the grapes. It’s a lot of work.”
Joe Isaia made 60 gallons of wine from his 10-year-old Hidden Valley vineyards last year. He says he would just plant zinfandel if he could because that’s his favorite, but, unfortunately, the variety doesn’t grow well here. He also grows merlot, cabernet, and chardonnay grapes.
Debi and Jason Schultz grow Edelweiss, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, and Marquette grapes at their Sparks home. They also make wine and won first place in a local wine competition in 2014.
“We enjoy wine,” Jason says. “We started a hobby vineyard to enhance our experience at other vineyards we visit.”
Patterson recommended that his neighbor, Stan Kotanan start growing wine grapes. So Kotanan installed 75 plants in 2015. Another couple in the neighborhood, Dan and Lynda Thetford, planted 127 Marquette and Lemberger varieties. Dan has some experience in the field. His grandfather grew wine in Northern California, and Dan worked with him in the vineyard. Diane and Dennis Gilman tend 125 Tempranillo grapes. Lloyd and Kecia Leroy planted 125 Lemberger and Marquette varieties in May 2014.
“We have been hanging out and drinking wine with Bill for eight years, and he found some plants that would grow well here. So he said, ‘Now you can get into it,’” Lloyd says. “Bill knew about what soil was needed and what position to plant them in. We have so much property to grow [on], so it just made sense. As a community, we share information on what works and what doesn’t. Bill makes the wine and we all help. It’s a great effort.”
Amanda Burden is editor and publisher of edible Reno-Tahoe magazine. She loves a good red wine and drinks a glass nearly every night.
To learn more about growing wine grapes in your backyard, reach out to Nevada Vines & Wines members or local nursery managers. A great nursery is Garden Shop Nursery in Reno http://www.gardenshopnursery.com
Nevada Vines & Wines will hold another Backyard Vineyards Tour in August. For the date and other details, visit http://www.nvandw.com