What images do you visualize when you hear the word desert?
Arid landscape? Sand dunes? Cloudless skies with the scorching sun?
Far from the images of luscious vineyards, juicy grapes and even less so, flamboyant red and white wines.
Yet, in the desertic region of Las Vegas, three Nevada wineries are defying the odds. With the pioneer spirit that characterizes the people from the Wild West, they’ve established ground in the barren Southern Nevada desert.
With the help of other Nevada grape growers determined to grow grapes in the desert, these pioneers are now producing Nevada grown wines that will surprise you.
Join us on a fascinating journey to the wineries near Las Vegas and the people behind the wines from the desert.
Table of contents
- What It Takes to Start a Winery in the Desert
- #1- Pahrump Valley Winery: The Most Awarded Winery in Nevada
- #2- Sanders Family Winery: The Pioneers of Winemaking in Nevada
- #3- Vegas Valley Winery- The First Las Vegas Winery
- Vegas Valley Wine Making
- Vegas Valley Wine Tasting
- Winery Tour
- Overall Impressions
- In Summary
- Love it? Pin it!
What It Takes to Start a Winery in the Desert
First and foremost, passion, entrepreneurship, and a true pioneer spirit is what animated the gracious people we met at the Southern Nevada wineries. At each one of our visits, their passion and enthusiasm for their work transpired as our curiosity and respect grew.
Now in all practicality, to be called a Nevada winery, 25% of the grapes have to come from the Nevada state after the first 1,000 wine cases sold. You might wonder how do you grow grapes in the desert?
Although the harsh desertic conditions are challenging for grape growing, the sunshine and low humidity are favorable for viticulture. By selecting specific varietals and using new techniques, grapes have been growing successfully since the 90’s. Aquifers, higher elevation and cold air from the regional mountains help develop the grapes.
At first, only two wineries existed in Southern Nevada, both located in Pahrump, a city about one hour west of Las Vegas. Pahrump Valley Winery, the most awarded winery in Nevada and Sanders Family Winery, the pioneer of winemaking in Nevada.
Historically, the laws of the Silver State have been restrictive for winemaking due to liquor distributor lobbying. Until recently, wineries in counties with more than 100,000 people were illegal.
At the end of 2015, the law changed. This gave the opportunity for Vegas Valley Winery to open its door in December 2017, as the first Las Vegas Winery.
#1- Pahrump Valley Winery: The Most Awarded Winery in Nevada
Pahrump Valley Winery opened in 1990 and the first grapes were planted shortly thereafter. Wild horses from the nearby Mount Charleston area, destroyed the vines completely and they had to be replanted again, this time with a fence all around.
Current owners, Bill and Gretchen Loken first discovered the winery in 2002 and by 2003, had acquired the winery, including the on-site restaurant called Symphony Restaurant.
Today, Pahrump winery is one of the most awarded wineries with over 430 National Wine Awards since 2004.
A Day Trip from Las Vegas
Located about one hour west of the Las Vegas Strip, we were eager to visit this winery in the Southern Nevada desert. We had read the positive reviews, but we were still skeptical about the type of wines that grow in the desert.
Having previously visited Douro Valley, in Portugal, the first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world as well as Maipo Valley in Chile, known as the “Bordeaux of South America”, we were curious and had no expectations.
Pahrump Valley Winery offers free tours and tastings daily and we made it just in time for the 3:30 pm tour, the last tour of the day.
The Grapes at Pahrump Valley Winery
In the early years, the wines were made using California grapes, which were brought in by trucks to Pahrump Valley Winery and then crushed and made into premium wines.
In 2005, the Loken’s harvested their first grapes. Three years later they sold Nevada’s first ever commercial red wine. This 2005 Nevada Ridge Red Zinfandel went on to win Gold at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. Prior to that, wines made from Nevada grapes were white.
Since then, Pahrump Valley Nevada wines have gone on to win 100 National Wine Awards and counting.
Pahrump Valley Wines
Currently, about 30 percent of the Pahrump Valley Wines come from Nevada grapes, the rest are from California grape growers in Lodi, Suisun Valley, Mendocino County, among others.
The winery produces about 10,000 cases a year and continues to grow year after year. More than 100,000 bottles are sold each year. The winery’s goal is to produce a minimum of 80 percent Nevada-grown wine within the next 10 years.
You will find several Pahrump Valley wines under three different labels. The Pahrump Valley Wines which can be described as fun, fruity and friendly.
Charleston Peak wines, which pays tribute to their location, west of Mount Charleston. The wines under this label are carefully curated white and red wine classics.
And finally, the Nevada Ridge Wines, which is a limited production of Nevada grown, produced and bottled wines. These are the wines that are making history.
The Winery Tour
The tour and tasting takes about 30 minutes. At 3:30 pm, our tour guide assembled the surprisingly large group of about 25 – 30 visitors and walked outside to see Nevada’s first vineyards.
Sitting across the vines on benches, shaded by trees, we learned the fascinating story of how winemaking started in Nevada. We toured the grounds and saw the different grape varieties, including Zinfandel and more.
Our visit inside started in the cellars where the wines are bottled in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The winery had recently gone through a renovation and expansion and we were impressed by the size and scale of the cellars.
Just as our guide was talking about the production process, Gretchen Loken, the owner, walked and gave an impromptu tour of a new bottling machine that had just been installed.
Her energy and passion was contagious. We were all drawn in by her enthusiasm for winemaking and commitment to transforming Nevada into a winemaking destination.
Gracious with her time and incredibly friendly, we felt fortunate to have heard from the owner about the winery and their goals.
On the way to the wine tasting, we stopped by the impressive medal and awards room, where all their awards are prominently displayed. Looking up towards the ceiling are rows and rows of Gold, Silver, and Bronze recognition. A real surprise and honor for this Nevada winery.
Pahrump Valley Wine Tasting
Before the tasting began, we were each handed a menu of several Pahrump Valley Wines, including the Nevada wines. For the tasting, you can choose to taste seven wines including whites, reds, Nevada wines and dessert wines. Once you make your selection, you are poured a small tasting of each one.
We chose two white wines, three red wines and two Nevada wines. We started out with a Pinot Grigio from the Charleston Peak label. While we enjoyed the crisp flavors, we found it too sweet for our taste.
The Symphony wine, of which the restaurant is named after, comes from the Pahrump Valley wine label. It is one of their popular wines, with sweet flavors of honeysuckle and apricot. This wine was smooth, though sweet, almost like a dessert wine.
The reds which are barrel reserve were our favorites. Rosemary enjoyed the rich flavors of the Syrah and I savored the elegant flavors of the ancient vine grown Zinfandel wines.
We tried two Nevada wines, a Primitivo and a Tempranillo. Both wines from the 2015 vintage. While an interesting experience to drink Nevada bottled and produced wines, we did not fall in love with them. We found the wines smooth, but too dry for our tastes. They are the kind of wines that probably go better with food.
If you are up for a day trip from Las Vegas Strip, it’s an easy drive to Pahrump and a great way to spend a day outside of the city.
You will be welcomed warmly with a free tour and tasting and a chance to see the operations of a pioneering Nevada winery. If you have the time, plan to eat at the award-winning Symphony Restaurant. Despite the white linen tablecloths, the atmosphere at the restaurant is relaxed.
While we didn’t eat at the restaurant, it is highly rated on TripAdvisor and by Nevada Magazines. The chef incorporates the wines in dishes like the Symphony Chicken Limone, Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut, and Winery Shrimp Scampi. The wine list is extensive and includes more than Nevada wines.
A trip to Pahrump Valley Winery is a fun way to discover more about Nevada.
Address: 3810 Winery Road, Pahrump, Nevada
Hours: Tours and tastings offered daily at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm
Price: Tastings are free. Bottles of Nevada wines range from $21.95 to $34.95
- Enjoy a full day in Pahrump when you combine visits to Pahrump Valley Winery and Sanders Family Winery. Since tours at Pahrump Valley Winery take place at specific times, we would recommend starting there and then going to Sanders Family Winery where you can get a tasting at any time.
#2- Sanders Family Winery: The Pioneers of Winemaking in Nevada
After establishing the first winery in Nevada, now called the Pahrump Valley Winery, Bob Sanders founded Sanders Winery.
Located only a few miles from Pahrump Winery, Sanders Winery is a surprising oasis in the middle of the desert. The villa architecture is inspired by the Italian Tuscan style, and surrounded by the vineyards and pistachio trees.
Vineyards and Winemaking
The Sanders family grows Zinfandel and Petite Syrah grapes on the property. Other grapes come either from northern Nevada or California.
Sanders Winery is quite prolific in winemaking. They produce 8 different wines, two whites, one Rosé wine and five reds. They also make two sparkling wines, one white, one sparkling Rosé, two Port wines and a sherry.
Sanders Family Winery Tasting
While tours are not offered at Sanders Family Winery, the tasting is quite an experience. As soon as you walk into the property, you are welcomed with a free tasting.
The sommelier handed us the tasting sequence for the day, which outlined nine different wines. Starting from white wines, then Rosé wine, red wines, including sparkling and a final cocktail, you are in for a full experience.
The sommelier took the time to explain each wine and patiently answer our questions while pouring generous wine portions.
The wines were surprisingly pleasant and savory. Although we are not fans of American white wines which we generally find too sweet, we enjoyed Serenity, the first Nevada wine. Our favorite was the Cabernet Sauvignon which had a nice peppery finish.
To end our tasting, the sommelier prepared the “Red Ginger” a surprising and refreshing drink made of ginger ale, red wine, and lime. With our glass in hand, we went off to enjoy our lunch on the property, as you are free to bring your own food!
The Sanders Family Winery is an easily accessible drive from Las Vegas and perfect to combine with a visit to Pahrump Valley Winery.
Don’t be turned away by the lack of signage to get to the winery. Mark the location of the property in advance on your GPS and you’ll be sure to find it.
The property is very inviting and the tasting very friendly and generous. Feel free to bring a snack or a picnic to eat along with your tasting.
Starting in the Spring until the Fall, the Sanders Family Winery host concerts, plays, and shows at its own Performance Arts Center. You can sip your wine while enjoying the performance. Reservations are required.
A truly lovely experience in the middle of the desert.
Address: 3780 E Kellogg Rd, Pahrump, NV.
Hours: Everyday from 10AM to 5PM
Price: Tasting is free; wine bottles starts at $11.95, 5% discount for 6 bottles, 10% discount for 12 & above.
- Plan on taking your time to enjoy the tasting and sip your last glass on the property grounds.
- Bring your own snacks to eat while sipping your wines.
#3- Vegas Valley Winery- The First Las Vegas Winery
Opened in December 2017, Vegas Valley Winery paved the path by opening the first winery in Las Vegas.
Prior, it was illegal in the state of Nevada to run a winery in counties with a population over 100,000 people. But the law changed in 2015, allowing Vegas Valley Winery to open for business.
Located in Henderson, about 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, it is worth making the trip to get a taste of wines from the first Las Vegas winery.
The winery is located in an industrial zone that is already home to craft breweries and a distillery. Even though you will not find vineyards, you’ll be surprised by the beautiful interior.
The decor in the tasting room has somber tones with pieces of oak barrels all around. You can pull up to the bar or spread out comfortably on tables and chairs.
Vegas Valley Wine Making
On our visit, we were fortunate to meet the owner, Patty, a very charming and hospitable lady. In our discussions, we learned that the changes to the State Law allow for the first 1,000 cases of wine to be made with grapes from anywhere. After that, 25 percent of the grapes must be native to Nevada.
In their first few months of opening, Vegas Valley has been importing their grapes from California, with plans to use grapes grown in Nevada in the near future.
Vegas Valley Wine Tasting
The tasting at Vegas Valley is priced at $10 for a tasting of five wines. The wines include whites, red and one Rosé wine.
Grapes for the white wines and Rosé wine are from Suisun Valley in California, which we learned from the tasting sommelier, is on the backside of Napa Valley.
And the grapes for the reds are from Paso Robles, California.
As we tasted each of the five wines, the sommelier took the time to explain the tasting notes for each wine while patiently answering all our questions.
We really enjoyed the red wines, Zinfandel and Syrah, which were bold, elegant and very smooth. Our favorite white wine was the Whimsical, a dry white with crisp and citrusy notes.
In addition to wines, you can also get food including pizza, a cheese and meat charcuterie platter and wine infused cupcakes.
After the tasting, we took a tour of the property with Kj Howe, the in-house Professor of Yeastology.
The tour focuses on how the wines are made and the winemaking process. Interestingly, the owners of Vegas Valley Winery are also the owners of Grape Expectations, the first Nevada School of Wine where you can make your own wine.
On the entertaining tour, KJ told us stories of about the wines in the barrels and the groups of friends, families, and businesses that come every year to make their own wines.
The space is not large, and the tour is a short walk, but KJ is a wealth of information and an entertaining storyteller.
Friendly, welcoming and passionate is how we would describe the experience at Vegas Valley Winery.
Everyone we met was incredibly passionate about wine. There was a feeling of “ground-breaking” and “paving a new future” that was evident in all our discussions. Every single staff member had a sense of pride knowing they were creating a new chapter in the Las Vegas wine industry.
The wines, especially the red wines were very good. We were impressed by the beautiful symphony of flavors created by Vegas Valley Winery using California grapes.
Address: 7360 Eastgate Rd, Ste 123, Henderson, Nevada
Hours: Mon – Thurs: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Fri: 2:00 pm – 11:00 pm, Sat: 12:00pm – 10:00 pm, Sun: 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Price: $10 tasting for 5 wines
- While visiting Vegas Valley Winery, be sure to ask for a tour of the facility. One unique aspect of the tour is that you can take your favorite glass of wine with you.
- In Henderson, where Vegas Valley Winery is located, is affectionately known as the “Artisan Booze District.” In addition to a winery, you’ll also find three breweries and a distillery. Plan to spend a full day sampling local craft brews from Nevada.
On your visit to Las Vegas, go beyond the Las Vegas Strip and discover the burgeoning wine industry in Southern Nevada and Las Vegas.
A day trip to Pahrump is a fun way to explore another part of Nevada while discovering the local Nevada wineries and surprising wines.
The passionate winemakers in Nevada are leading a revolution in winemaking. By going to Henderson or Pahrump and showing your support, Nevada could one day rival Napa Valley.
On your next trip to the Silver State, discover and enjoy wine tasting in Las Vegas.
Where to Find Nevada Wines
Most of the wines from the three wineries are not widely distributed. Pahrump Wines are the most accessible wines with some varieties sold at Total Wines and other local wine stores.
The best place to taste the range of Sanders Family Wines is by visiting the winery. They do ship some wines, but it would be best to call them and find out if they can ship to your area.
At the moment, the best place to get the first Las Vegas wines is by visiting the tasting room at Vegas Valley Wines in Henderson. Wine production is still limited, though they hope to make their wines available locally in the near future.
Have you tried Nevada wines before? In the comments below, tell us your thoughts about Nevada wines.
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Claire is a culinary explorer and the engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.
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