People mingle around in front of the Engine 8 Urban Winery in downtown Sparks, eagerly awaiting to go into the new space set to open fully to the public in mid-April. As Sparks city councilmembers filter in and out, owners Wendy and Mike Rawson give tours of Sparks’ first and only wine bar, pointing out unique artifacts and furnishings implemented into the design to pay homage to Sparks’ history. This is an important part of the business for the owners, probably clear in how the name “Engine 8” ties into the whole Rail City theme.
Wendy and her husband were fans of visiting wine bars and always wanted to open one in Sparks. They thought of the idea about three years ago and then decided to get serious about it when they both went through job transitions and determined that now was the right time. With Mike in forced retirement, the couple started researching wine bars and found a company that helps small businesses launch their own wineries and totally customize their own space. The Rawson’s then spent five months finding the right location.
“Originally we didn’t want to be this far out in Sparks, but we were driving around looking for space and then called our realtor when this spot came up,” Wendy says of the space ideally situated right next to the new Galaxy Theatre in the mixed-use commercial space. “We had no idea that this was going to be retail space,” Wendy says.
There is even added significance to the location as that is where Wendy Rawson used to set up the family tent right on the street in front of the winery for almost 20 years to enjoy the Star Spangled Sparks fireworks and festivities.
“Now we can create a whole different set of memories from this location. To be here next to the theater, where my kids grew up, I just love it,” Wendy says. Born in Fallon and growing up in Sparks (Wendy is a Reed High School alumni), she says that they chose the name of winery after the retired locomotive here and is interested in working with the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center to help celebrate Sparks’ rich railway history.
“All of our (wine) labels are honoring the area and the State of Nevada,” she says, adding that wine labels feature photos and renditions of the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Nevada’s wild mustangs, elk, and bighorn sheep.
Engine 8 Urban Winery also has the ability to manufacture its own wines and plans on offering reds including a cabernet, merlot, Malbec, and pinot noir; as well as whites such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc; and flavored wines including a blackberry merlot, peach chardonnay, strawberry/raspberry white zinfandels. Engine 8 will also have three ports available in flavors such as chocolate cherry, chocolate raspberry, and ruby red. Engine 8 will be serving wines by the glass, by the bottle, and in flights.
“We are actually making wine on site and it’s going to smell like wine is fermenting,” Wendy says.
Walking into Engine 8, the bar is perched in the center of the room with a few wooden tables placed around and a wall full of wine shelves. A thick floor-to-ceiling sliding barn door opens up into another room that’s perfect for small parties and corporate events. More industrial-looking wooden tables, a big flat screen TV, and private patio offer ideal ambiance. In the corner of the room, a large 40-year-old three-tap wine cask structure that came from a Reno casino offers some extra character. On top of the barrels is a lantern that was used by engineers to light the way on the Nevada trains in the 1800s.
“Just some fun stuff to tell stories about,” Wendy says.
Between the two rooms in the back is a sparkling clean fermentation room and kitchen, where brand new oak barrels wait for some wine. Engine 8 receives its grape juice from Central California and will ferment it in 15 tanks, four of which are oak barrels to keep chardonnay, cabernet, and special blends.
Between its perfect location and flavorful drink offerings, Engine 8 is already on its way to become one Sparks’ top gathering places for a glass of wine before or after a movie or special event.
“I’m excited for this to be the first (wine bar) in the City; it’s yet another unique business here in vibrant downtown Sparks,” says Sparks City Councilman Donald Abbott.