Grape Expectations just might be one of the Valley’s best kept secrets. Tucked away in Henderson’s “Booze District” between three breweries and a distillery, this gem might look like a warehouse on the outside, but inside contains the warmth of a second home for many of the groups who gather year after year to share in making barrels of wine.
The winemaking school idea developed after Patty Peters and her husband Charlie visited one out East. However, it took time to make it a reality here in Nevada because the laws had to be changed to allow for a winery in the Valley due to the population exceeding the restriction. Their persistence paid off and they succeeded in having the law changed. In 2007, they realized their dream and opened Grape Expectations, Nevada School of Winemaking where “you maka da wine one barrel at a time!”
Yes, everyone around Grape Expectations has a great sense of humor. The team is made up of some characters. Patty Peters is the owner and “Chief Wine Wench.” Big Mike (he’s really tall!) is the “Chief Wino” who stepped into the role after the unexpected passing of Patty’s husband in 2012. You will definitely get an education if you are fortunate enough to meet “The Professor of Yeastology,” KJ Howe, the colorful scientist. The Professor leads winemakers through the first step of production, The Crush.
The process of making wine takes about nine months and each group gathers several times to partake in the four steps of production, crushing, pressing, racking, and bottling.
Matt Engle and his wife Elizabeth were asked to join a group of winemakers back in 2012 and fell in love with the process. Soon they spun off and invited friends to form another group, and this year they are now involved in making three barrels of wine. The groups have blossomed into long term friendships, and to Patty they all become like family.
Session two of production (pictured here) might be one of the most fun. During “pressing day” groups extract the juice from the grapes in a hydraulic wine press. The modern-day version of the I Love Lucy grape stomp, as commemorated by a picture hanging on the wall of Lucy participating in the old tradition!
On this particular day with Matt and Elizabeth's group, wine and appetizers were flowing, and hilarity ensued. Cheers and laughter could be heard throughout the racks of barrels stacked around the building. There were several groups in different crushing and pressing phases working different stations. The group has a long-standing tradition of wearing white on this day, and pretty soon there are wine splatters all over them and they are comparing old stains like badges of honor that bring memories into the next year. There was cause for an additional celebration as it was Matt’s birthday. Candles are lit on the “cake” - leftover grapes after the juice has all been pressed out that forms a cakelike texture - and the singing and toasting begins.
Matt was especially enjoying this year because it almost didn’t happen. As the pandemic blanketed the country, Matt and Elizabeth hesitated in making plans to produce this year’s barrels. They wondered if it felt too extravagant when the country was facing an economic crunch. After thinking it over they reached out to their group and received a unanimous YES to making not only one barrel, but a few more to support Grape Expectations. Not just because they enjoy it so much, but after talking it over they realized maybe it wasn’t an unnecessary luxury, it was a comfort to everyone in their groups, a place where friends gather and create something together. It’s downright group therapy!
Matt shared how the labels made for his wine bottles in the past have told stories of celebrations during that year. He decided on his 40th birthday that he should live by three principles in life … be GRATEFUL, GIVE back, and be YOURSELF, and designed labels to highlight them for three consecutive years. On the back of each bottle is a deeper explanation of the meaning, and when you line them up you see a vine that connects them together. When the bottles are shared around the holiday table, or special occasions, or maybe just a Wednesday night, they are reflections of the blessings in his life.
If all this is making you thirsty, then stop by Vegas Valley Winery for a tasting. In 2017, Patty and Mike carved out a space in the warehouse and opened Clark County’s first and only winery to date. Sample Nevada-made wines in a tasting or by the glass, and savor pairings with charcuteries and locally hand-crafted chocolates. Be sure to ask for a tour of the winery too, you’ll be warmly welcomed and gain a greater understanding about the journey from vine to wine. You may even find yourself getting involved in making a barrel. There are other opportunities to experience the charm of Grape Expectations and Vegas Valley Winery with events like yoga and wine, painting parties, VGK game night specials, and wine education. You can even host an event of your own in their venue. It’s a great place to keep in mind for the holiday celebrations coming soon, especially since supporting local businesses has meant more than ever this past year.
Patty and Mike are beyond grateful to their winery family, “The Cork Squad,” for the support they have received. Their generosity literally meant survival as the pandemic drastically reduced business to the point where they were wondering if they could move forward. They are thankful from the bottom of their hearts and with continued support have high hopes of being an integral part of the community for years to come.