A vineyard and winery out in the sagebrush of Nevada?
A couple in this small town 50 miles south of Reno are about to find out whether the wine industry can make a go of it in the desert state.
Veteran vintners Kathy and Rick Halbardier have announced plans to open the state's first full-production vineyard and winery.
Plans call for the winery and vineyards to be located on a portion of the 615-acre Van Sickle Station Ranch near Minden.
The couple's partners in the Tahoe Ridge Winery and Marketplace will be the ranch owners, Roger and Gail Teig. They expect to open the winery by September 2004.
Unlike Nevada's handful of other winery operations, wine will be processed from harvest to bottle at the site. The ranch also will have several vineyards, where Chardonnay and other varietals will be grown.
"We were looking for a way to preserve the open spaces and keep the cattle ranching going," Gail Tieg said. "(This venture) gives our family and our heirs some options for the future."
Experts at the University of Nevada, Reno are cautiously optimistic about the future of the wine industry in Nevada. They have worked with the Halbardiers over the last decade on climatic research and experimentation.
As pioneers in grape growing in Nevada, the Halbardiers found many obstacles in their path - high elevation, alkaline soils, short growing seasons, solar radiation, cold winters, low humidity and scarce water.
It appears commercial-quality, premium wines can be produced from grapes grown in Nevada, but it's uncertain whether winemaking would be economically feasible here, said Grant Cramer, a biochemistry professor at UNR.
"One thing we're trying to assess is whether we can grow grapes here, and it looks like we can," Cramer told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
"It's one thing to grow grapes, another to make money and sell them. Looking at a local level shouldn't be a problem, but it's not a smart approach to take to compete with the California industry,"he added.
California has 847 wineries and 4,400 grape growers.
Twelve times less water is needed to irrigate a vineyard compared with an alfalfa field, a big consideration in a desert climate like Nevada's, Cramer said.
But the biggest threat to grape growing in Nevada appears to be cold temperatures.
"We periodically get temperatures cold enough to kill the vines all the way through every 10 years or so," Cramer said. "We're very interested in proving the cold tolerance of our vines here."
The Halbardiers'company now has 14 commercial and research plots in Nevada and contracts to buy grapes from 10 California vineyards.