A chance encounter: These NoCal winemakers never expected to buy a Reno winery, but one thing led to another 

Kate Boyle MacDonald and her husband, Craig MacDonald, are the new owners of Nevada Sunset Winery on Fourth Street, in Reno’s Brewery District. 

The MacDonalds also own Boyle MacDonald Wines in Murphys, Calif., which they said often attracts customers from Reno. That’s why the couple thought they might want to also do business locally. 

One of their first steps into the Nevada wine industry happened in 2012, when they visited Churchill Vineyards in Fallon—years before it transitioned into the Frey Ranch Distillery.  

“We actually went out to Churchill Vineyards, because that was the only vineyard that was close to Reno,” Kate said. “We had a great tour and everything, and then at the end of it, we were talking about how we just really couldn’t wait to make a go of it and open a winery in Reno. And they said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that. It’s not legal to produce wine in Washoe County.’” 

In 2015, Nevada law changed to allow wine production in counties with a population greater than 100,000. This change was largely thanks to efforts by Mike Steedman and Alynn Delisle—Sunset Winery’s previous owners—and many others. 

“We didn’t realize until COVID happened that life could literally change overnight,” Kate said. “And so we said, ‘What are we waiting for? Let’s just go for it and see if we can make this happen.’ So we moved to Reno. … Alynn and Mike were some of the first people who I called when we moved to Reno, just as friends to tell them, ‘Hey, we moved here.’ So we did not move to Reno with any intention of buying Nevada Sunset Winery. That was just fortuitous.” 

Fortuitous, indeed—but Kate has done a lot to make her own luck in the wine world. She has more than 25 years of wine-making experience, starting as a cellar rat (an entry-level winery helper) before eventually becoming an experienced winemaker; she also planted and worked on her family’s estate vineyard in Napa. 

“I have a bit more of a European style, which is always trying to accentuate what nature is trying to give us as far as the nuances, and all the different layers of flavor that you can coax out of the fruit without having one extremely dominant flavor,” Kate said. “I then do very traditional winemaking methods. My wines are (stored) in-barrel for three, four or five years depending on (what the wine needs). I bottle when the wine is ready, not because I need to get my next vintage out. I have that luxury, being such a small producer, which is really nice.  

“I love the challenges, and that’s why Reno is so exciting. I love the idea of being challenged by new fruit, and so far, the few new (Nevada-grown) varietals I’ve worked with are extremely challenging. So that’s new and exciting.” 

This is a winemaking philosophy I love—simple and clean, making the best wine you can that reflects the nature of the grapes and the environment where they grew. 

“You know, one of the things that we absolutely love about Reno and Nevada in general is how Nevada-proud and supportive people are,” Kate said. “That is so heartwarming, and I love the fact that people come into the winery now, and when I let them know which wines are 100 percent Nevada grown, they’re just so excited about that. 

“I always joke that I’m more Reno than anybody from Reno, like an advocate. I love it so much. I want to wear all the T-shirts and have some gear and tell everybody to come and visit.” 

She enjoys the fact that Sunset is located in Reno’s Brewery District, where patrons can go next door to Lead Dog Brewing for a beer flight or across the parking lot to Black Rabbit Mead Company for a mead flight. 

The MacDonalds’ current plans include adding more seating. The tasting room is already a super-lively environment and a great destination point—and I can’t wait to see it after it can accommodate even more wine fans.  

Nevada Sunset Winery is located at 415 E. Fourth St., in Reno, and is open 3 to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Learn more at nevadasunsetwinery.com