Wine guy works wonders with vines in desert soil, heat

Imagine sitting by the pool and enjoying a glass of homemade wine in the Las Vegas desert heat. It may sound like a dream made in heaven for some people, but Providence resident Marc Orenstein is hoping to make it a reality.

The wine lover and blogger, better known as The Desert Wine Guy, never thought growing a vineyard in his northwest backyard was possible until he started researching the subject.

“I began researching if it is possible to grow grapes in my own backyard despite the Las Vegas heat, and while researching, I found that cabernet sauvignon grapes like the heat,” Orenstein said. “I figured I could give this a try and pick people’s brains to get information along the way. This has all been done through trial and error.”

The New York native found his passion for wine 20 years ago when he went on a trip to Napa Valley, Calif.

“I found the peace of the vineyards and the wine-tasting environment simply amazing,” Orenstein said.

Orenstein works as a full-time corrections officer for the state.

He chose to create a Desert Wine Guy Facebook page, blog and YouTube channel as a way to unwind after working long hours in the law enforcement field.

In addition to posting wine-related news, Orenstein will occasionally host wine and wine-related giveaways on his Facebook page.

Most wines that Orenstein reviews cost between $7 and $40.

He said his favorite is the Spanish wine Tempranillo.

“A lot of people think that people who enjoy wine are the type that always have their nose up in the air,” Orenstein said. “I created my blog with the belief that wine is for everyone, not just the rich.”

His wife, Robin, does not drink wine, so instead, Orenstein shares his wine-tasting experience with his 4-year-old twin daughters Rachel and Brooklyn. They drink Welch’s grape juice and swirl, sniff and gulp just like their father.

Soon after beginning his blog, he took his passion a step further.

“I wanted to learn how to grow grapes in the desert, but like most people, I thought you couldn’t grow anything except cactus in the Las Vegas soil,” Orenstein said.

To put his belief to the test, he began growing a small garden in his backyard.

He successfully grew tomatoes, peppers, stevia, onions and Thompson seedless grapes.

“He’s always had a green thumb,” his wife said.

As fate might have it, he stumbled on wine grapes at a local plant store in 2013.

“I left the store with around six cabernet sauvignon vines, and that was the start of it,” Orenstein said.

After spending hours moving rocks to expose rich topsoil, Orenstein was on his way to making his dream come true.

The intense desert heat helped the vines grow, and before Orenstein knew it, he had his first grape buds.

From the sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon vines grew Angel and Mirror Image Vineyards, named for his 16-year-old daughter Malia, “who is such an angel and wonderful person,” and his twin daughters.

“Creating these vineyards was kind of like my up-yours to the desert,” Orenstein said. “I hate the desert.”

During his grape-growing experience, the only pest that Orenstein said he has had to deal with is the grape leaf skeletonizer, which, true to its name, was eating the leaves on the vines. This caused the grapes to become exposed to the sun, shrivel up and die.

He began using a natural pesticide but still had to learn about pruning and watering.

“When I discovered YouTube, it opened a whole new world for me,” Orenstein said. “That, mixed with the opportunities I had to meet professionals in the wine industry, gave birth to The Desert Wine Guy.”

He recently purchased a wine-making kit that he plans to test with store-brought wine grapes before using his own.

He believes it will take him three to five years before he can grow enough grapes to make wine.

His family has supported his wine-making efforts despite not sharing his love for wine.

“I think his hobby is cool,” Malia said. “It keeps him busy, and we’re always traveling.”

“Even though I don’t drink wine, I’m here for moral support,” Robin said. “As a family, we enjoy traveling with him to different vineyards. It makes for a good family vacation.”

Orenstein has big plans for the future. He hopes one day to venture into the wine business and own a large vineyard.

“I don’t sell anything. I do this purely for fun,” Orenstein said. “I just think it is awesome that right here in the middle of the desert, there are wine grapes growing and actually thriving.”

For more information, visit thedesertwineguy.com.

To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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