Washington Cities Compete for Wine Villages

Officials hope upgrades to infrastructure will draw wine producers

by Peter Mitham
A 94-acre site in West Richland could be home to larger wineries due to a new wastewater plant’s ability to handle large volumes of effluent. Image: Oneza & Associates
Kennewick, Wash.—Washington state’s success with wine villages is set for a test as plans for four new developments in the Tri-Cities area blossom.

Proposals exist for wine-oriented projects in the cities of Richland, West Richland and Kennewick, either as part of redevelopment initiatives or municipal infrastructure upgrades. For example, wastewater-treatment plants are integral to projects the Port of Kennewick is undertaking on Columbia Drive and at the former Tri-Cities raceway in West Richland.

“We are using wineries as a catalyst for redevelopment, as it seems wineries, breweries, antique stores and arts can go into challenged areas and make it work,” Larry Peterson, director of planning and development with the Port of Kennewick, explained to Wines & Vines.

Reimagining the riverfront
Wineries are both manufacturing facilities that fit the industrial character of the 400-acre riverfront district along Columbia Drive that’s bounded by bridges and rail lines as well as a draw for a more genteel traffic the port hopes will create new opportunities in the area.

Columbia Gardens, as the development is known, sits adjacent to a wastewater-treatment facility the city of Kennewick will operate that’s designed to handle effluent from wineries located in three incubator buildings of 3,200 to 3,600 square feet. Production at the wineries is slated to be no more than 15,000 cases per year.

“We are looking to limit the case production,” Peterson said. “We don’t want massive wine factories there. The idea is a series of boutique wineries as opposed to a big 50,000-square-foot building.”

Peterson said larger wineries will be ideal for the 94-acre site in West Richland, which will have a $2.5 million wastewater plant designed to handle larger volumes of effluent. The state’s Department of Ecology currently is developing new wastewater regulations (see “Washington State Drafting Wastewater Permit”). 

“Rather than consume prime production land with an acre pond and then a production warehouse, we’re setting it up with our partner, the city of West Richland, (which is) providing the key infrastructure to deal with the wine waste,” he said. “We’re providing industrial sites at the base of the mountain…(and) trying to use that key piece of infrastructure on the port’s land to try and drive the wine industry to those locations.”

While the two projects seem similar, they have different objectives and target different kinds of wineries.

“Bigger wine factories go out to West Richland, where the city has $2.5 million of treatment capacity, and in Columbia Gardens the city’s putting in smaller treatment capacity, wanting smaller buildings using wineries as a catalyst for redevelopment,” Peterson said. “We have both ends of the spectrum covered.”

Meanwhile, West Richland has sites adjacent to the raceway that can accommodate smaller wineries and ancillary businesses that many hope will develop into a gastronomic nexus. But if infrastructure is at the heart of the two projects, the success of wine villages elsewhere in Washington state underscored the potential of the projects to meet their goals.

Evidence of success
Port of Benton’s Vintner’s Village in Prosser and the winery cluster at the Walla Walla airport demonstrated the success of such ventures and provided an Eastside answer to the Seattle suburb of Woodinville, where tasting rooms and wineries have anchored the development of a food and wine hub near the headquarters of Chateau Ste. Michelle. (See “Wine Villages Draw Traffic.”)

The projects have set the pace for a resurgence of the wine-oriented developments that were popular prior to the financial crisis of 2008.

“There’s going to be more wine villages than presidential candidates here shortly,” Peterson quipped, noting that wineries can serve several purposes in planning projects.

While wineries are integral to the Columbia Gardens and West Richland projects, they’re just one of several elements envisioned in the port’s planned redevelopment of Vista Field in Kennewick.

While local vintners are excited at the prospect of having the wine industry represented in the project, planning consultants Duany Plater-Zybek & Co. identified wineries in a February 2015 report as one element in an “industrial ribbon” running through the redeveloped site.

Planning for the site is still in the early stages, but it will also include residential and commercial uses that create a dynamic, mixed-use hub for a city that currently lacks focus for its urban character.

Similarly, a development at Badger Mountain South in Richland includes Veneto Villagio, a privately funded project that broke ground in May 2014.

“Designed to become the state’s premier destination for tourists and locals alike, the Wine Village will feature wineries and tasting rooms, vineyards and artisanal distilleries, wine caves and shops, restaurants, a hotel and even places to live,” a site touting the development states.

Built around the romance of the industry rather than its infrastructure, the project is unabashedly at the upper end of the development spectrum.

Different objectives
But that’s fine by Peterson, who said the several developments each need to have their own focus. The private backing for Badger Mountain South is a vote of confidence in that project, while the Port of Kennewick is focused on projects that fulfill a public mandate.

Construction of winery buildings at Columbia Gardens will kick off this summer, with completion and occupancy planned for early 2016.

While no deals for the space have been inked, strong demand has given the port its pick of producers.

“We’re being somewhat selective. It’s not just, ‘Can you pay the rent?’ ” Peterson said. “We don’t want ’em to go dark, we don’t want ’em to be under capitalized, and I don’t want ’em making vinegar, because we have one chance for this to be successful.”

Given the selection of parties expressing interest, Peterson believes it will be.

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