Growing wine grapes in Carson Valley

When Gene Pasek began looking for a less labor-intensive crop than the alfalfa he had been growing on his 10 acres in Ruhenstroth, he remembered the ice wine he enjoyed on a trip to upstate New York. He figured if grapes grew in that climate, why not here? In searching for the best grapes for our climate, he has been able to meet others interested in making wine and learned a lot in the process.

"Bill Bloomer, third-generation winemaker, in Woodfords made wine from my grapes in 2007," said Gene. "Unfamiliar with the variety of grapes I had, he had to follow his instincts. Boeger Winery and Rick at Tahoe Ridge Winery have also been helpful. I put in a good foundation with help from Craig Witt at Full Circle Compost.

"This year the Freys of Churchill Vineyards suggested I contact Archie Reed, local winemaker here in Gardnerville. We picked 180 pounds, crushed and de-stemmed them right here, and put them in barrels. Archie will monitor the fermentation process so the flavor is just right."

Today Gene has 4,000 cold-hardy Frontenac, St. Croix and Marquette varieties, with room for 6,000 more. It takes three years to get the first harvest and, on average, each vine will produce a bottle of wine each year for about 80 years.

"The cold weather hybrids can grow in challenging climates," Gene said. "Many tolerate temperatures up to 40 below and it only takes a few hours each week to maintain a row of 100. Planting the rows on a slight slope allows the water to be gravity-fed, which uses less electricity.

"I set out to prove that we can grow grapes for wine in our high desert, have grapes year over year and with low overhead. The gravity-fed irrigation might not work at sea level but it works well at our higher elevation," he said.

"Smith Valley farmers are considering grapes to replace the garlic crops lost to China's market. At an average of 18,000 vines on 10 acres, 50 acres could yield approximately 100,000 bottles of wine. They could sell the grapes for $1,000 to $3,000 per ton and they'd only need about $25,000 in equipment for grapes versus almost $200,000 for alfalfa," he said.

"Our valley could have large vineyards, like in a green space, and still have houses as it grows."

Grapes use about 10 to 20 percent of the water that the same acreage of alfalfa uses. Gene said he would love to see a vineyard in every yard.

"Just 10 to 20 vines use about the same water as one large pine tree," he said. "They'd be great as a fence screen and backyard growers can produce several bottles of wine a year. Winemakers can be as creative as they want to be by blending the wines together in different combinations for different flavors all according personal taste."

The name of Gene's wine is "The Lord's Work." The label is being designed by Peggy Reed and will have a picture of Gene's dad, the late Dr. John Pasek, sitting on a tractor raking alfalfa.

"The Lord is in this vineyard. I'm just the caretaker," said Gene as he took in the view of Jobs Peak from his vineyard.

Gene's winemaker Archie Reed has been working with the Douglas County Parks & Recreation Department and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension to have a winemaking class where Gene could share what he has learned about growing the vines and Archie can teach how to make the wine. In the meantime, if you have any questions, you can call Archie at 783-3525 or 265-2256.

n Reach Gail Davis at or call 265-1947.


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