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Sparks business grows from the love of wine

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Bev Stenejhem

For 18 years, Nevada natives Wendi and Mike Rawson spent every July 4 holiday in the same spot. From a safe and comfortable distance, the Rawsons watched the dazzling Star Spangled Sparks fireworks display, shot from the roof of the Nugget Casino in downtown Sparks.

It was the Rawson’s annual tradition to secure a prime grassy section of space, within viewing distance, where they could spread out their canopies and chairs and celebrate the holiday with a day-long party, into the night, with their friends and family. It was this spot, that over the years, their children played and built so many family memories.

Naturally, they were upset when the lengthy construction of a new apartment building blocked their access to their favorite spot and put an end to their yearly tradition. Little did they know that within a couple of years, that they would once again claim the exact same spot for their own. It was surely serendipity that taking the place of their previous yearly parties was their very own business: a winery called Engine 8 Urban Winery.

This remarkable story starts when the Rawsons retired, after “burn-out” from their life-long careers at other companies.

“Mike and I  were looking to start a business of our own. We always wanted to be our own bosses but weren’t sure what kind of business it was going to be,” Wendi explained. “We knew it would be a business in the hospitality industry.”

Then Mike chimed in, saying, “We both liked wine and imagined that downtown Sparks would be the perfect location for an upscale and relaxed winery.”

Although it wasn’t long before they found an opportunity to start a winery, it took five months to find the right location. When they had the chance to locate their  winery next to the new apartment building, they jumped at the chance. Not only was the space the exact same spot where they held their old July 4 parties, it was right next door to the busy Galaxy Theater which would provide lots of foot traffic and exposure.

The interior of the winery merges industrial with contemporary design with an open ceiling, barn doors and red and black shelving. “I had a vision for our winery and designed and set-up the whole layout,” Wendi said. “We installed a large window to our tank room so that people could watch the wines being made and bottled while sipping wine at nearby tables.”

Engine 8 Urban Winery's interior.
Engine 8 Urban Winery’s interior. Image: Bev Stenejhem

Just hitting the one-year anniversary of their new business, the winery offers a large selection of wine – and truly, something for everyone.

“All our wine is made from grapes out of Lodi, California,” said Mike. “These grapes typically produce big, fruit-forward wines. We age our wines in barrels we get from the oak cooperage owned by Silver Oak Winery.” 

Mike described one of their best sellers, a third-generation Cabernet. “It’s medium-bodied with flavors of dark cherry and plum and a hint of chocolate. It has a smooth finish and is really quite good. Another rising star in our wine line-up is a barrel-aged Chardonnay which is crisp and refreshing.”

Their current menu includes five red wines–Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Malbec–and four whites–Chardonnay, Moscato, Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to these varietals, they have a tasty selection of fruit wines including a Blackberry Merlot, a Peach Chardonnay and a Raspberry and Strawberry white Zinfandel.

Customers can order pizza, charcuterie board, dessert or  truffles, purchased from Sierra Nevada Chocolates, to go along with their tastings.

Engine 8 Urban Winery's outdoor patio.
Engine 8’s outdoor patio.
Image: Bev Stenejhem

Keeping social-distancing in mind, at least for the near future, Engine 8 Urban Winery is a great place to bring people together. Mike wants people to know that, “In addition to a fun and relaxing environment, we offer blending parties where people learn how to make wine and create a customized bottle, to their liking, of red wine. During the summer, we also have live music on Wednesday and Friday nights which will be set up out doors on our patio.”

For now, during the COVID-19 restrictions, people can order and pick up wines from Tuesday through Friday, 4-8 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

Companies can also rent their spacious private room for business meetings or special events, available morning, noon or night. The room has a high-tech, interactive white board for video conference or media presentations, and of course, a wine bar.

Wendi recounted the many blessings that came their way while starting their new business. “Not only was the location so special to us but the land developer provided much-needed help with the building. We’ve made many new, good friends.”

And Mike added,  “A job is something you have to do. A career, like our winery, is something you love to do. Wendi and I talk all the time about how we ‘get to do this job.’ We enjoy serving others. The passion has come back.”

With the COVID-19 restrictions easing and tensions melting away, it will soon be time to venture out and enjoy life again. As soon as Reno/Sparks gets the green light, I can’t think of a better way to start the fun than to head on over to Engine 8 Urban Winery and relax with my friends over a bottle or two of their outstanding wines.  

Find Engine 8 Urban Winery in downtown Sparks: 1260 Avenue of the Oaks, Suite 150 – in the same retail center as Galaxy Theater.  Call (775) 996-ENG8 or visit: www.engine8urbanwinery.com for complete details on their wines and events.

Bev Stenejhem

Bev recently moved to Reno from the Bay Area where she finished out a career in Human Resources and, as a side gig, wrote about the local wineries there in a weekly wine column. She also published a historical photo book, The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley. A self-described wine enthusiast, Bev enjoys discovering the people behind the wine, becoming friends and celebrating good times. Bev is a member of Nevada Vines and Wines and is excited to explore and share Reno’s budding wine industry with our readers.

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