By Alexa Chipman May 1, 2017
Towering red cliffs and wide desert filled with Joshua trees surrounds Las Vegas, meandering through dusty roads to the town of Pahrump. An eclectic mix of independent survivors in rustic trailers and exquisite homes, it is not where you would expect to find a renowned winery. In a landscape of brush and rabbits, it was the first Nevada winery, but was neglected until 2003 when entrepreneurs Bill and Gretchen Loken stumbled across the opportunity to renovate and expand the business.
It did not take long for them to fall in love with the art of winemaking, and their enthusiasm for Nevada wine has propelled them toward a goal of using local grapes. In the last few years, they have been busy planting vineyards around the state, and while California grapes heavily supplement their current wine, they are determined to turn that around and have at least 75% Nevada grapes in the next few years. They currently offer seven entirely Nevada grown wines and bottle about 9,000 cases per year.
Growing grapes in the desert can be a challenge—they need plenty of irrigation from Pahrump’s aquifer, less pruning to allow the shoots to offer extra shade, and some such as chardonnay simply will not grow. When visiting, the middle of March and April will show the vineyards green with bright flower gardens to relax in before the summer heat radiates the area. Stop by the first weekend in October for the Grape Stomp with live music, competition, an art festival, and food. Speaking of fine dining, Symphony’s is an award-winning restaurant on site with mouth-watering dishes that are reasonably priced—a local favorite being the flame grilled salmon. It has limited hours of 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for lunch and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for dinner, and is well worth it.
This boutique winery feels and tastes like any in Napa Valley, without the high price tag. Instead of a tasting fee, you can try up to seven different wines for free! They do not offer palette cleansers, but you should carry bottled water with you regardless, due to the desert area. Their gift shop is primarily clothing and has beautiful wine jewelry—their bottles are scattered throughout, so you may need to ask for assistance finding the one you want.
Tasting is a casual experience, and I was surprised by the high quality of their dessert wines. There is enough variety on the list for multiple tastings, so it could be an experience of several days or a quick trip out to the country to break up your packed Las Vegas vacation.
Pinot Grigio (California 2015)
Its light floral flavor compliments the pungent orange blossom aroma. It is well balanced with a citrus edge to it without being too tart; I was impressed by it’s structure.
Desert Blush (Pahrump, American blend)
Washed in a gentle ripe peach scent, it is like drinking an apple pie with cinnamon notes.
Symphony (Pahrump, California blend 2015)
Their best selling wine, for which the restaurant was named, they are working on using more Nevada vines for it, and recently planted an additional vineyard. It has too strong of a honey flavor for my taste, with overtones of honeysuckle; it might be their most popular wine, but I did not find it appealing.
Tempranillo (Nevada 2014)
A strong bodied wine with traces of fine cigar smoke, it avoids a berry taste for straight wood infused flavor for an effective wine.
Mourvedre (Nevada 2014)
It comes across as generic pinot noir without significant flavor, rather tannic, but the aroma of strawberries is enticing. It is the first Nevada Mourvedre to be released.
Silver State Red (Nevada 2014)
A blend of nine different grapes, such as cabernet, merlot, and syrah, it is so smooth that there is no need to pair food with it. This is a perfect red wine, with cedar aroma, lack of acidity, and silky tannins.
I went straight to the shop to purchase this—I am not fond of crème sherry, and this proved me wrong. Its drizzled caramel flavor flows over the palette and is spectacular when poured over vanilla ice cream. If you visit Pahrump Winery, be sure to include this in your wine flight.
Next time you are on a business trip or girls’ night out in Las Vegas, an excursion through the desert to Pahrump’s vineyard oasis should be on your itinerary.