Red Mountain to expand offerings near West Richland, Benton City

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2014 

Visitors already are experiencing Red Mountain wineries and vineyards by hiking and horseback riding in the state's smallest wine grape-growing region.

That connection to the land is something wineries and vineyard owners hope to build on as Red Mountain develops into a viticultural park near West Richland and Benton City.

They envision a sea of vineyards linked with wineries and visitor facilities through a network of trails, said Heather Unwin, executive director of the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area Alliance.

She spoke Thursday during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers' annual meeting and convention at Kennewick's Three Rivers Convention Center.

At about 4,600 acres, Red Mountain is accessible and walkable, Unwin said. Plans for Red Mountain call for more vineyards and wineries, a wine village and interpretive elements and signs, she said.

About 1,400 of Red Mountain's acres are planted vineyards and it's home to several wineries. Dozens of other winemakers throughout Washington use Red Mountain grapes.

Unwin said she already sees interest in exploring Red Mountain by trail. Local business Red Mountain Trails offers horse rides through vineyards.

And she said landowners are working with Friends of Badger Mountain on plans to connect Red and Badger mountains. The Badger group has the vision of ridges to rivers trails, which would mean public trails on Candy and Red mountains, as well as Badger.

With Red Mountain and other areas, the big question is how to get more visitors and their spending, said Barbara Glover, Wine Yakima Valley executive director.

Wine drew about 2.4 million visitors to the state in 2012 and they spent about $1.1 billion, she said.

Wine contributes about $8.6 billion to Washington's economy each year, Glover said. That's more than doubled since 2006 and it has continued to grow.

Unwin said with the economic downturn, they've had to be patient. But the last year has been full of developments for Red Mountain.

Yakima River water will be brought to Red Mountain land this summer thanks to a a $20.2 million project by Kennewick Irrigation District.

Aquilini Properties, owned by a family who also owns the Vancouver Canucks, bought all 670 acres of undeveloped Red Mountain land offered up by KID in a recent auction.

And one of Napa Valley's premier wineries, Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., announced plans to open a cabernet sauvignon-focused winery using grapes from there.

Red Mountain is a unique opportunity, with its visibility just off of Interstate 82 and its expansive views, Unwin said. Its success also will benefit neighbors, including the Tri-Cities, West Richland and Benton City.

Red Mountain's wineries -- such as the Kiona Winery tasting room -- already show how the wineries can blend into the steppe shrub landscape, Unwin said.

Unwin said they hope to see zoning eventually made possible for a tourist-serving area that can feature hotels on land that can't be used for growing grapes.

Zoning ordinances are in the works, she said.

Unwin said they hope to make Red Mountain a place all wine visitors will want to experience.

"We want wine lovers to come and feel our dirt," she said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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