The other wine country: Pahrump Valley
For the past couple of decades, the once sleepy agricultural area called the Pahrump Valley in southern Nevada has gained not only population but a couple of pretty good wineries.
Located 65 miles west of Las Vegas, Pahrump was originally settled in the 1880s by the Aaron and Rosie Winters, who earlier had discovered borax on the Death Valley playa near the mouth of Furnace Creek Wash.
In addition to developing a ranch in the Pahrump Valley, the Winters planted grapes and began making wine, some of which was sold in local saloons.
In the 1890s, Pahrump — the name is Paiute for “Big Springs” because there was a natural spring in the valley — gained a post office and had attracted a handful of other ranchers, many of whom began growing cotton.
Most of the homes and businesses in Pahrump didn’t exist until a quarter-century ago. State Route 160, which links Pahrump to Las Vegas, wasn’t paved until 1954. The Pahrump Valley didn’t receive electrical power until 1963.
In the 1970s, Pahrump began to boom as a result of real estate development spurred by retirees, snowbirds, escapees from California, and Las Vegas commuters who wanted a bit of elbow room.
The drive from Las Vegas to Pahrump allows you to retrace part of the route of the historic Old Spanish Trail. The journey crosses the southern end of the Spring Mountain Range, which includes 11,918-foot Mount Charleston, the highest point in Southern Nevada.
Pahrump has retained its rural flavor while gaining many of the amenities found in larger communities such as a medical clinic, golf courses, a health club, and an airstrip.
And since 1990, it’s been home of the Mediterranean-style Pahrump Valley Vineyards. The winery, which includes a gourmet restaurant, was the brainchild of Jack Sanders, a former Pahrump casino executive who believed the climate, soil and conditions in the Pahrump Valley were similar to the Temecula Valley grape-growing region near San Diego, California.
Sanders also read about the Winters’ small wine-making operation a century or more ago and was intrigued by the possibilities.
In 1989, he broke ground on the $1.5 million Mission-style winery in the shadow of Mount Charleston and, in July 1990, bottled his first batch of wine. In the first year, the winery produced 26,000 bottles of wine.
In the early years the wine was made using California grapes, which were trucked to the winery in Pahrump, where they are crushed and made into premium wines. The winery, however, started crushing its own zinfandel grapes in 2005, making it the state’s first-ever commercial red wine (previous wines made from Nevada grapes were white).
Visitors can enjoy regular tours of the state-of-the-art winery, followed by free tastings. Additionally, Symphony’s Restaurant in the winery building offers gourmet dining for lunch and dinner. There is also a well-stocked gift shop.
Sanders sold the facility in 2003 to Jim Loken, owner of Western Horizons Resorts, who added a 196-site RV park with a clubhouse and pool. Loken and his wife Gretchen also modernized, upgraded and renovated the winery.
As for Sanders, he jumped back into the wine game shortly after he sold the Pahrump Valley Winery and the opened the Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump. The newer property boasts a Renaissance Tuscan-themed winery and an active outdoor concert schedule as well as a tasting room, tours and a gift shop.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.