Some of you who follow our coverage may have noticed from social media posts that a few of us recently visited Basin and Range Cellars, a local winery producing estate wine.
“Estate” is a term used by vintners (winemakers) and brewers (beer makers) to denote that the ingredients they use are grown entirely on site. Basin and Range is the highest elevation vineyard in the United States, with an average elevation of nearly a mile above sea level, and only uses its own grapes in its wines. By comparison, most wineries source at least some of their grapes from other vineyards and most vineyards are grown between a couple hundred feet above sea level up to about 3,000 feet.
And almost none of them are grown on the lee side of a monstrous mountain range more famous for its tourism and snow than its agriculture.
“We have a perfect combination of granite soil that drains well, along with American-French hybrid grapes that tolerate the conditions,” said co-owner Wade Johnston. “And what helps too is the dry climate actually helps prevent some of the rotting and molding that occurs in wetter areas.”
Johnston may talk like a farmer or biologist but his educational background is actually in geology, the delights of which he will happily share with anyone, and serves him well in the winemaking hobby that he endeavors to turn into a full-time career.
His partner, Joe Bernardo, is at the opposite end of the education spectrum, with his childhood roots as a farmer and possessing long history in the study of wine. Bernardo spent two decades managing the University of Nevada’s vineyard but also recently leveraged his farm work ethic to turn around the 9.3-acre vineyard that had been left to the environment since the previous winery’s departure.
“I spent every day for two straight months on an ATV,” he said, pointing to a picturesque image of the vineyard on display in the tap room, “Pulling sagebrush out of that entire hillside. It was completely overgrown.”
The hard work has paid off in the form of a beautiful new business that proudly pours wines of unique varietals grown and made right here in the local community. Johnston is selfless as well; quick to point out that the space they use is shared with two other local wineries and to “be sure to try them too because they’re great people and their wine is also really good.”
His reference is to Great Basin Winery and Nevada Sunset Winery, with which Basin and Range Cellars operates, all under one roof in downtown Reno.
When asked about his favorite part of the process, Johnston paused for a moment and then said, “I think I just really like taking one thing and making it into another thing.”
It surprises no one that alchemy would attract the mind of a geologist. Lucky for us Renoites, the “base metal” here is grapes, and the “gold” is delicious local wine.