Our Voice: Red Mountain sale keeps us guessing about possibilities

December 1, 2013 

Red Mountain is the smallest appellation in the state.

To be designated an American Viticultural Area, Red Mountain had to prove it was something special.

That wasn't much of a challenge because the land outside of Benton City is considered the premiere grape growing region in our state and one of the best in the world.

A little more than 4,000 acres are within the Red Mountain AVA, with about 1,400 of those acres planted in vineyards.

A Canadian company just became the proud owner of 670 acres of land there, with 518.76 lying within the boundaries of the AVA.

The land had been owned by the Kennewick Irrigation District since the 1940s, and the announcement that it would be sold became big news in the wine industry. Bidders had to put up a $10,000 deposit just to participate in the auction.

The auction allowed for the land to be sold as individual parcels -- 31 in total -- ranging in size from 20 to 40 acres, or as one transaction, whichever fetched the highest price.

Aquilini Properties took the whole package for $8.3 million, much to the disappointment of some who had wanted their own little piece of the mountain.

What makes the land even more special is that it will soon have access to irrigation. KID is bringing Yakima River water to the mountain with a massive $20 million project that is well under way. Aquilini will have to pay its share for the local improvement district, another $7.6 million. And it will pay a 5.5 percent commission to the auction house. The sale is expected to close in early January.

Just what Aquilini has planned for the property is a bit of a mystery, though a company representative has said it will be planting vineyards. The family owns the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and Rogers Arena. The family business owns hotels and restaurants and a vast array of other properties in the company worth an estimated $5 billion and employing almost 5,000 people.

Aquilini has an agricultural division and operates on the largest blueberry and cranberry processing businesses in the world. But they don't appear to be in the wine business, at least not until now.

While it would have been nice to see some locals buy the land, we're intrigued by Aquilini. The company has the means and the hospitality industry experience to do something really special at Red Mountain.

Not all the land the company purchased is suitable for grape growing. Some have hopes that Aquilini will develop a wine village or a boutique hotel on some of the property, diversifying the offerings for visitors to Red Mountain.

Red Mountain is a gem for our wine industry and related tourism, and a few amenities would improve the experience even more.

The possibilities are exciting to consider and we look forward to the next chapter at Red Mountain.

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