Wellington wine maker bottles what he sows
July 19, 2018
While it may be a while before Carson Valley is ready to start making wine from grapes to bottle, a south county resident is already in production.
Wellington resident Greg Ross has an acre of grape vines and has been producing wine for private consumption as a result.
Ross and his wife purchased the property on a hill above the Walker River in 2011.
He said she suggested planting vines, but Ross had his doubts in the beginning.
"No way," he said. "There are too many varmints, deer and bunnies. It's not going to work. The growing season is too short."
She didn't listen and planted seeds. Ross said he purchased 25 vines "just for fun."
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"They reached full ripeness and the correct acidity and sugar levels," he said. "And then I planted some more, and a few more, and now I have 722 mistresses out there. My retirement turned into my work."
The 64-year-old said the vines require all of his attention.
"I really got the bug in the early part of this year when I won all these awards. I entered four competitions."
The growing season was one of Ross' initial concerns.
Five vintages later, he said he's getting perhaps 1 percent frost damage.
"I occasionally lose a vine to frost," he said. "We had a 22-degree day on May 23 and lost a few vines in the lower part of the property."
But the cold air sits in the river bottom, and the grapes and blackberry bushes are the only fruit he's had not affected by frost.
Like most places in the county, apple, cherry and peach trees have all lost crops to the cold.
"You can commercially grow fine-wine grapes, at least where I am, so the frost hasn't been an issue."
Ross isn't a stranger to the wine business.
He started when he taught a wine class in 1975. It didn't pay anything, but he did get work on the business side.
"You can't be in the sales side without absorbing by osmosis some of the wind knowledge," he said. "I started out doing home-made wine, a cabernet just for fun with a couple of friends. I received a god medal for a wine I made in 1985."
But Ross said buying grapes and making wine didn't quite fulfill him.
"Something was missing until I tried growing it myself," he said. "I stated with a small vineyard in Southern California, but I did everything wrong."
And after he started winning awards he began to pay more attention to the details.
"I really got the bug when I got all these awards," he said. "I took a more concerted effort. 'Hey man,' I said, 'don't leave that bottle uncleaned. Clean everything. Make sure you have CO2.'"
He said he grows mostly white wine, but he does produce a red and a rosé.
"The growing area demands white wine," he said. "You can't put a square peg in a round hole. It has to be white."
He said one of the things he has to watch out for is oxidation.
"'When you cut open an apple, it starts to go brown," he said. "If you rack the wine from one jug to another, and don't take care of oxidation, it will go brown."
He said he took a more professional approach when he started growing his own grapes.
"With all the work I did in the vineyard, I'm not going to blow it," he said. "I want to prove to myself I can do it."
Don't expect to see Ross' Bulldog Walker River Estate label on store shelves, though.
"I'm not going to sell it," he said. "Douglas, and the state, and the feds would all want their piece of the pie. I'd have to deal with the board of health and all of those things."
The bulldog on the wine label refers to Ross' dog, Stella.
"I own bulldogs," he said. "They're a lifestyle, almost as bad as the grapes. They chase me out into the vineyard. They're a lot of fun."
Ross said he wanted to prove to himself he could grow grapes and turn them into wine here.
"Now I want to let people know you can grow something other than alfalfa here," he said.