Group recommends plan for wine-growing region at Red Mountain

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 13, 2013 

A plan designed to guide the future of one of the region's premiere grape-growing areas sailed through the Benton County Planning Commission on Tuesday night and now heads to county commissioners.

The Red Mountain AVA Master Site Plan -- in the works for about eight years -- describes "a place of beauty where wineries lie within a sea of vineyards against the backdrop of Red Mountain," and lays out a framework for managing future development.

The planning commission recommended in a 4-0 vote that county commissioners incorporate the document into the county's comprehensive plan.

The planning commission has seven members total; two were absent and there's one vacancy.

"I think this is a pretty impressive document," said Mark Reis, a planning commission member, during the session.

The plan covers roughly 5,400 acres, including the entire Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

It touches on everything from zoning to design guidelines and paints a picture of possibilities for the area.

It envisions the AVA as a "viticultural park" with a wine village and other amenities that provide "a wide range of recreation and interpretive experiences that complement the vineyard and winery related experiences."

It describes visitors "immersed in the vineyards: They can walk with their families along interpretive paths that describe how grapes are grown and how globally competitive wines are made."

It also talks of "gateways" with signs and vegetation, an enhanced road system and a network of trails, among other features.

The master plan process was commissioned in 2005 by the county and a group of vineyard and winery operators, agencies and others interested in Red Mountain.

Keith Pilgrim, co-owner and winemaker at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard, who's been involved for years, said the group wanted a say in how the area develops.

He grew up in the Napa area and said that without planning, that famous wine region wouldn't be what it is today. "It's the same idea here, trying to set up a plan of what the area can be and where you can go with it," he told the Herald before Tuesday's meeting.

The plan talks about preserving the character of Red Mountain amid development pressure brought on by the area's beauty and reputation for quality wines.

A handful of people spoke Tuesday during a public hearing before the vote, mostly in support of the master site plan.

Ed Shaw, president of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance, said the area is a special place, well-known and respected in the wine community. The plan is the result of a lot of hard work, and even more work will be needed "to put flesh on the bones," he said. "Right now, this is a really good vision statement. We look forward to getting it implemented."

County commissioners are expected to discuss the plan at a meeting sometime in March. Red Mountain AVA Master Site Plan documents are online at tinyurl.com/redmountainplan.

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