Charlie Peters, a registered sommelier, and a well-known and popular food and beverage executive, studied the wine making process for two decades. During a visit to his home state of New Jersey, he and his wife, Patty, visited a well-established wine making school operated by Lou Sodano, and thought the concept would be a perfect business model for the Las Vegas community. With Lou’s guidance, Charlie returned to Las Vegas, where he and a few friends began experimenting with different production methods in a small shed located in his backyard. He ultimately determined that with the right equipment, effective marketing, and proper teaching methods, a winemaking school was practicable.
In researching the business licensing requirements, he found an obscure Nevada law making it illegal to operate a winery in a county with a population of over 100,000 people. Charlie was not deterred by this information and was determined to overcome that seemingly insurmountable obstacle current wisdom said could not be altered.
Capitalizing on his associations within the community, and with the help of local political and business leaders, he submitted a bill to the Nevada Legislature during the 2005 Legislative session, to amend the law allowing winemaking schools within the State. The bill was amended and approved and the Nevada School of Winemaking, Grape Expectations, became a reality in a 3,200 square foot facility located on Whitney Mesa in Henderson, Nevada.
Through his contacts on the east coast, he was able to secure quality hand-picked grapes from various California North Coast vineyards and began marketing the school through “word-of-mouth” and Public Relations activities. The first Grape Expectations students began processing wine during the 2007 fall harvest. Seventy-eight barrels were produced and bottled the following May yielding 240 bottles per barrel.
Each year, more activities were added to the curriculum and the presentation techniques became more informative and entertaining. The popularity of the school and its fun-like, relaxed learning atmosphere and unique social and community functions along with its reputation grew to a point where more than 4000 people from throughout the local social and economic spectrum were part of the growing winemaker fraternity.
With the attendant publicity the school gleaned, the barrel production grew each year as did the number of winemakers making the 3200 square foot facility obsolete and necessitating a move to a larger facility.
In September 2012, a new 11,000 square foot facility was secured for the winery adding more production, teaching, storage and office space to accommodate the company’s growth and planned added winemaking opportunities. Just after the move from the smaller location, and just before the unveiling of the new facility, Charlie Peters heart stopped and he passed away leaving the future of Grape Expectations in some doubt.
Charlie’s wife, Patty, with the support of close staff members, Mike Schoenbaechler,”Big Mike”, now General Manager and Chief Winemaker, and KJ Howe, “Professor of Yeastology”, and the pledged support from the winemaking family, concluded that the company would continue operations and the planned expansion of processing grapes from Chile, South America, would not be affected. Chad Evans, “The Chad”, joined the staff shortly thereafter as head of production.
Fortunately, the staff was familiar with the unique operational protocols of the “one barrel at a time” production model Charlie had formulated and the 2012 California harvest was produced with minimum difficulty.
In the spring of 2013, we began processing 50 barrels of Chilean grapes, simultaneous with the bottling of the 2012 California harvest, proving the efficacy of the founders’ vision to utilize the new facility efficiently and provide incremental, sustainable growth.
The requirements from our importers necessitated a fifty barrel grape order minimum (approximately 40,000 lbs.). We were able to meet their requirement that first year and in 2014 as well, and we will continue to source grapes from various regions when it is economically feasible and we are confident there is a market for the product.
As the wine industry continues to expand, and new procedures and techniques in Viticulture and Enology are discovered and exploited by winemakers throughout the world, we continue to upgrade our knowledge and expertise by attending seminars and classes at the University of California-Davis and the Robert Mondavi Institute located there. Members of our staff have enrolled in several classes to keep them abreast of current winemaking philosophies and techniques and to generate relationships with winemakers from throughout the US and abroad.
We have also cultivated a “hands-on” working relationship with our growers in California’s North Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) and other areas to become more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of wine agriculture (viticulture).
Our growth necessitated the purchase of new production equipment which provided efficiencies we were not able to effect in our smaller facility.
Our larger winery has become a venue for various charitable fundraising events exposing the property to thousands of potential clients and gleaning enormous positive publicity for Grape Expectations.
Grape Expectations is becoming known for its unique approach to special events winning awards in each of the last four years in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Henderson for their grape themed float and the accompanying Train Wreck Marching Band, an annual crowd favorite.
Additionally, we were honored by the Henderson Chamber of Commerce winning the coveted Innovation Award at the 2013 Rise Awards, and a Special Recognition Award from US Congressional Representative, Joe Heck.
One of the highlights each year is the Bacchus Awards, “The Knife, Fork and Cork Festival”, held each August to honor winemakers with gold, silver and bronze medals in various wine categories, and additional awards for the winemaker’s labels. The thematic awards party is on every winemaker’s “must attend” list.