Shipping Costs Add to Challenges of Southern Nevada Wineries | California News

By ARLEIGH RODGERS, Las Vegas Sun

PAHRUMP, Nev. (AP) — Jack Sanders watched a herd of wild mustangs devour the first wine grapes grown at his Nevada winery in 1998.

He was soon confronted with a harsh reality: how would his new venture, which he called the state’s premier winery, survive a year without grapes?

Sanders adapted quickly, growing more grapes and launching the winery. He told the Las Vegas Sun that he always adapts to changes in the industry.

The new challenge? Skyrocketing shipping costs and glass bottle shortages forced a price hike at his Sanders Family Winery.

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It’s a Tuscan-inspired winery with 10 wines made from petite Syrah and Zinfandel grapes in its vineyard, as well as fruits from Santa Barbara County in California.

Sanders sold Pahrump Valley Winery, his original project, in 2004.

Southern Nevada’s small wine industry is no stranger to inflation problems in the United States. As gas prices rise, the cost of shipping bottles and grapes used in the winemaking process from California to Pahrump increases every few months.

Sanders said shipping prices quadrupled in his last order.

Glassware itself has seen a steep price increase — about a third higher than usual, Sanders said — due to the combined effect of rising gasoline prices and chain lockdowns. supplies that were first reported over the holidays.

To offset the costs, Sanders said he raised the price of his bottled wines by $1 each. Wines now range from $13 to $18 a bottle, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most expensive.

Wine tastings, including six original wines and two imported sparkling wines, are still free, as they have been since the winery opened.

Sanders remains optimistic about the winery’s success and recovery from the pandemic, especially through its live concerts and weddings, he said.

“Wineries are more than just wineries,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in Pahrump or Nantucket (Massachusetts Island) or the Finger Lakes (in New York).”

Inflation set new records, the consumer price index – which measures the cost of food, housing, gasoline and other goods – rose 7.5% in January from to a year ago. This is the biggest rise in inflation in 40 years and prices rose 0.9% in the same month.

Some scientists and economists theorize that climate change is also responsible for inflation.

Wine, in particular, is the target of significant shortages, which would lead to an increase in the price of fruit or bottled wine, as wine grapes are a commodity sensitive to variations in temperature and rainfall.

In 2020, grapes in the Napa Valley region of California were scorched by wildfires. As the southwestern United States becomes hotter and drier, some regions may have habitable climates for the product that made them famous.

But vineyard owners like Sanders are clinging to the changing wine scene in southern Nevada.

“People come to have fun, and we don’t give them any reason not to,” Sanders said.

The repercussions of inflation are also hitting Vegas Valley Winery in Las Vegas’ downtown arts district.

Vegas Valley Winery has no local vineyard, importing all of its grapes from California, like Sanders, as well as international markets in Chile and South Africa for its school of wine, owner Mike Schoenbaechler said.

Schoenbaechler said when he ordered glass bottles in May 2021, he paid twice as much as two years ago. The bottles didn’t arrive until the second week of January, he said, a delay that forced the company to postpone bottling some wines.

Instead, the wines sat in their barrels for longer than their required year and a half to two years, although Schoenbaechler said this slightly prolonged process will not affect taste or quality.

To limit further delays, the bottle aging time for wine will decrease, Schoenbaechler said. In the cellar, the wines generally age in the bottle for a year, although reducing this resting time does not alter the taste significantly either.

“My biggest challenge right now is just trying not to run out of a certain type of wine without having something to replace it,” he said. “Let’s say we’re out of red wine. We want to be able to release another red wine around the same time… so that we can always serve the same amount of wines in the tasting room.

Meanwhile, shipments from other countries have become five to six times more expensive, he said.

Schoenbaechler predicts that shipping and fruit costs for California grapes will also be significantly higher when prices are set during the late summer to early fall harvest period. The exact increase will also depend on the yield of the harvest season.

“You have to be super flexible and able to adapt to the environment,” he said. “What concerns me most now and in the near future is inflation, the cost of all the goods needed to produce the wine to bottle it, and the cost of fruit.”

Walking along his vineyard in Pahrump, Sanders recounted another change for the winery: fewer vines with more room to grow. Sanders will plant the grapes farther apart and allow the vines to stretch their arms three times longer, a change from the winery’s previous tactic, which called for more frequent vines that only grew five feet wide. This will produce more grapes and require less water, Sanders said.

Back in the tasting room, he poured glasses of Chardonnay and Merlot in the company of Charlie, a small gray dog ​​with ears shaped like butterfly wings.

“I consider it a retirement hobby, and it’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s a very romantic undertaking. … We want to see the wine industry grow.”

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Elisha A. Tilghman