Owner of Grape Expectations opens Las Vegas’ first winery

Charlie Peters, who was in food and beverage at Caesars Palace and a certified sommelier, and wife Patty were thinking about starting a business, maybe opening a bar, when they went to New Jersey shortly after the millennium.

They were visiting Charlie’s friends, one of whom told them his brother had a business where people came in to make wine. Wondering, Patty said, “How good could that be?” they scheduled a tour with Lou Sodano, owner of The Wine Experience in Monmouth, N.J.

“We walked in and saw the barrels,” she said. “You can’t take your eyes off of them. Every dream (we’ve) ever had was right there. When Charlie saw what Lou was doing, he knew that was what he wanted to do.”

Returning to Las Vegas, they discovered one problem: It was against the law in Nevada. So they started making wine in their back yard shed. “So we had quite a few parties,” Patty said. “And the wine wasn’t the best, but it didn’t matter.”

Around 2002, they started working to change the law. Their attorney suggested they reach out to people they knew, so they contacted a lobbyist, who led them to Mike Schneider, who was in the Nevada Senate. Schneider told them they needed to talk to the vice president and general manager of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, now Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.

“If Larry Ruvo doesn’t want this to go, this isn’t going to go,” Patty remembers him saying. The two of them met with Larry and he was awesome. He said, ‘I’m going to support you. I’ll send my people down to lobby for you.’ He was awesome. He’s just been the best.”

In 2005, the law was changed, paving the way for Grape Expectations to open. It was in an industrial park off Mountain Vista Drive in Henderson until moving in 2012 to a larger facility in an industrial park on Eastgate Road, also in Henderson. They moved on Sept. 1, and on Sept. 9, Charlie died at age 58 of what she thinks was a massive heart attack. Patty, who had been the criminal history manager and system trainer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, would take over the company.

“He set me up pretty good with the people he put around us,” she said: Mike Schoenbaechler, general manager and chief winemaker; K.J. Howe, professor of yeastology and director of marketing/advertising; and Chad Evans, production.

On Dec. 8, they opened the region’s first winery, Vegas Valley Winery, with a wine lounge that’s open daily. A grand-opening celebration is set for Jan. 20.

Review-Journal: How have operations changed since the founding?

Patty Peters: The whole production of winemaking has gotten better. Mike started taking classes at UC-Davis. He spends a lot of time with our growers and (in) the vineyards where we get grapes. We’re testing the wines a lot more to identify if there are issues. We’re keeping a good eye on the wine as it goes through all the stages. Mike amped up the cleanliness. It was pretty clean when Charlie had it, but Charlie was a one-man team. We got an industrial-strength steamer, to treat the barrels.

How many people have made wine at Grape Expectations?

We have between 4,000 and 5,000 winemakers at any given time. A lot of them have been making wine with us for two or more years. We have 80 to 85 percent (retention).

How has Grape Expectations fostered a sense of community?

We hear it a lot: “It was the wine that brought us in, but it’s the people who keep us coming back.” We love being here. The other part of it is people who make wine, they’re just a different breed. They leave all their woes and cares at the door when they walk in here, and they’re like kids. I don’t think most people know how much fun they are, without all that other stuff around. We’re a family. It’s a good feeling.

Why did you want the winery designation?

It just seemed like the right progression. The boys are pretty darn good at winemaking. It was time to show what they can do. Mike’s the winemaker; he’s the guy who steers the boat. Those are his wines, and they’re good. I’m just so proud of them.

Will we be seeing more Las Vegas wines?

The way they’ve written the law, it’s very difficult to start a winery in Clark County. The winery is a winery; it’s a separate business from the school. Right now we’re only selling wines by the glass and a lot of that is really the way the law was written. But maybe sometime in the near future we’ll have bottles. Right now the wine’s limited. We have five wines. We don’t want to ever run out.

What’s next?

We have nowhere to go but up. I don’t know if that means having another location. I don’t know, but I’m excited about it. I’m just watching it grow; I can’t wipe the smile off my face. But I’m not cocky yet. I don’t think I have cocky in me.

■ Newest Las Vegas discovery?

I used to go to the Bootlegger on Eastern and Trop, and then it moved and I forgot about it. K.J. and I took off one night and went over there and I rediscovered the Bootlegger. And Casa di Amore; they put in a tiki bar out back.

■ Place you always take visitors?

Casa di Amore. Or Brio at Town Square. I like walking in there and looking at those lamps and all that drapery. That’s my “Calgon, take me away” moment.

■ Personal motto?

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

■ Favorite vacation destination?

Ireland. Charlie and I went to Ireland.

■ Food you could eat every day?

Anything pasta. Pasta with lots of sauce.

■ Phobia?

Sticking my hand into a nest of spiders.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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