Visitors who travel to Red Mountain finally will be able to visit wineries such as Col Solare, Fidelitas and Cooper and see Canvasback and Force Majeure vineyards without having to get back on Highway 224.
The newly extended Antinori Road opened to drivers recently, connecting what had been a dead end to Sunset Road on Red Mountain near Benton City.
The new mile of Antinori Road has Red Mountain winery and vineyard owners excited because of how much it will help with tourism.
Getting rid of the dead end gives visitors a better sense of the state’s smallest wine grape growing area and should help keep people on the mountain longer, said Heather Unwin, executive director of the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area Alliance.
And they have high hopes of building tourism, especially with the attention Red Mountain has been getting in recent years.
Wine connoisseurs have given Red Mountain wine high marks. British Columbia’s powerful Aquilini family is planting grapevines this year on the 670 acres it bought from KID and Duckhorn Vineyards of St. Helena, Calif., planted its 20-acre estate vineyard for Canvasback last year.
Visitors should feel encouraged to explore and visit multiple wineries, Unwin said. Improving the access means more visitors likely will plan to spend a weekend on Red Mountain checking out the 12 or so wineries.
And a lot of tourists from Portland and Seattle are looking for that kind of trip, she said.
Antinori Road will help tourists move throughout Red Mountain and will become increasingly important with the expected growth in vineyards, wineries and tourist amenities, said Ryan Pennington, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates director of communications.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Tuscany’s Antinori family have collaborated to operate Col Solare, a Red Mountain winery on Antinori Road.
“We’re more than happy to contribute to the development of this important infrastructure for Red Mountain, as we have with other projects in the area such as the recently completed Kennewick Irrigation District project,” Pennington said.
Previously, there was a rough dirt track that workers and property owners used to access vineyards. But there wasn’t a road open to the public.
The speed limit on the dirt road was no more than 5 miles per hour because vehicles would throw up dust during harvest, which made harvest difficult, Unwin said.
Construction on the $1 million road extension began in January.
Thirty-seven property owners helped pay the cost using a County Road Improvement District. The adjoining property owners dedicated right of way, said Dan Ford, Benton County public works director and engineer.
The extension was a long time coming. Vineyard and winery owners had collaborated for years and worked with the county on the project.
It took some time to figure out how to place the road so it had the least impact to established vineyards and agricultural structures, Ford said.
“For the most part, the property owners were phenomenal in working with us,” Ford said.
Initial estimates put the cost of the road at $1.7 million, but Ford said the county was able to decrease the cost by having the speed limit be 35 mph instead of 50 mph.
“This is an exciting milestone for all of Red Mountain,” Pennington said.
Red Mountain already is seeing increased visits from trade and media members, a good sign because what they write helps attract more visitors to the region, Unwin said.
Wineries have seen more out of state and international visitors and more hard core wine tourists, Unwin said.
While Antinori Road is a milestone, at least one other project in the works also would be a boon to tourism.
The Friends of Badger Mountain are working with some Red Mountain property owners on developing a hiking trail in the area.
And Red Mountain property owners are continuing to work with the county on some proposed zoning ordinances for the grape growing area, Unwin said. A master plan done by the property owners included some suggestions of zones that would help the wine region grow and offer more tourist amenities.