- Associated Press - Friday, March 13, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - State lawmakers are considering repealing a law that all but bans wineries in Nevada’s two largest counties and has left the state with only four wineries - the lowest number of any state the country.

The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee held a hearing Friday for AB4, which would remove rules prohibiting wineries in Clark and Washoe counties from importing wine from other states or serving alcoholic beverages on their premises.

“There’s not a wine industry in Nevada. There are four wineries,” said Bruce Breslow, director of Nevada’s Department of Business and Industry. “We don’t have an economic engine, we have a day trip.”

Proponents, including Republican bill sponsor Pat Hickey, described the law as a protectionist measure that’s prevented a critical mass of wineries from setting up shop in the state and turning Nevada into a wine tourism destination. They noted that Millennial travelers are especially fond of wine tasting excursions.

Grant Cramer, a wine researcher and professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, testified that the Reno area is poised to be an ideal grape-growing region as global warming sets in. Vintners from California’s Central Coast testified that they’re looking toward buying vineyards in cooler states including Washington as their climate is expected to warm.

Bill opponents included representatives from a winery in Pahrump, which said changing the law too quickly could harm existing wineries just as they’re gaining strength.

“To kick open the door would do violence to the industry,” said Warren Hardy, a lobbyist representing Pahrump Valley Winery.

Bill Loken, co-owner of Pahrump Valley Winery, said the nascent industry is just getting its footing and needs to be nurtured before being exposed to widespread competition. He suggested creating minimum requirements before a wine is labeled “Made in Nevada,” such as a minimum percentage of Nevada-grown grapes.

That would prevent out-of-state grapes from flooding into Nevada wine production businesses and making the state a “wine suburb of California,” he said.

Hardy said bill opponents aren’t against the development of a winery culture in Nevada - they just want it done carefully.

“We absolutely, fully support the growth of the industry,” he said.

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