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Taps cease at Pahrump winery

Updated July 25, 2020 - 9:27 am

Typically the patron is left with having to settle the check before they leave a restaurant or a bar. But on this round, the bartender was the one left needing to settle the tab—with the tab being left open for roughly a year; and it still hasn’t been settled.

That was the dilemma with the recent suspension of the Pahrump Valley Winery’s liquor license in Nye County. The Pahrump business, a well-known, and well-traveled, spot for tourists and locals has squeezed its taps shut after the county said it would no longer hold its line of credit if it didn’t pay up—not necessarily with dollars, but the necessary paperwork the county asked for to approve the new owner’s liquor license in 2019. At that time, just over a year ago, Nye County requested documentation from John Hobbs, who is listed as the owner/applicant of the establishment that some consider an icon of the region.

Kathy Trout, listed as the secretary and the treasurer of Nevada Wine Cellars Inc., which does business as Pahrump Valley Winery, said that that winery was sold via a stock transfer during a July 7 meeting with the Nye County Board of Commissioners, sitting as the Nye County Licensing and Liquor Board. Sheriff Sharon Wehrly is also a member of the liquor board and was on the phone during that meeting.

Trout used the stock transfer to defend the winery’s position on its license status—taking the position that the winery had a license at the July 7 meeting.

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo interjected and said that liquor licenses go with the individual applicants and not the business to which they are attached. These licenses are not transferable, according to Blundo.

For roughly a year now, the Pahrump Valley Winery has operated on a conditional license, according to information at the July 7 meeting. At that meeting, Trout was told that the winery had until 5 p.m. that day to turn in paperwork and payment, or its license would be suspended. The board voted in favor of that action.

However, another meeting of three members of the liquor board and the winery was held later that day on July 7, where the winery was given until 5 p.m. on July 13 to turn in the required paperwork. According to agenda information, “Chair Debra Strickland decided to allow the applicant more time to submit the documents, thus extending the deadline to Monday, July 13, 2020, at 5 p.m.”

That meeting was ratified via a vote during the July 21 meeting of the liquor board, though the sheriff was not in attendance at that meeting.

The July 21 meeting addressed the potential liability for violation of open meeting laws.

“In that meeting, a potential OML violation had occurred, and we’re ratifying, we’re fixing that issue,” said Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo at the July 21 meeting.

“That’s the only issue we’re fixing,” Strickland said.

“Procedurally, we should have done this a little bit different, and it just opens us up to a little bit of liability,” Blundo said.

Former Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen was consulted for his opinion on this matter.

“I am not sure if it was arrogance or ignorance, but commissioner Strickland over-stepped her authority by overriding a board decision, and by holding a meeting that was not noticed to the public,” Schinhofen said via email.

The licensing item will be taken up again on Tuesday by the liquor board, where the winery’s license could potentially be revoked.

Winery history

The prior owners, Bill and Gretchen Loken, announced the sale of the winery in early 2019 on Facebook.

The Lokens bought the winery in 2003 from then-owner Jack Sanders, who owns and operates the Sanders Family Winery at 3780 E. Kellogg Road. Sanders opened his winery on Kellogg Road shortly after the sale of his holding on Winery Road.

The Lokens are from Arizona, where Bill was in the real estate industry and Gretchen worked as a schoolteacher.

In a June 2017 report in the Pahrump Valley Times, Bill Loken was noted saying that the property was in rough shape when the couple bought it in the early 2000s.

“The couple had to do a complete overhaul, gutting the entire building,” the report stated. “The tasting room was added onto, along with adding new wine-making equipment.”

The property had gone through multiple upgrades over the years, according to the report in the Times.

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