Hamilton Cellars' new winery on Red Mountain is producing more than wine. It's generating the electricity to fuel the process.
Two monitors on the wall of the tasting room show how much energy is being produced by the solar panels covering much of the building's roof.
Co-owners Russ and Stacie Hamilton wanted to be able to create the first completely solar powered winery in Washington, said Russ Hamilton, who recently retired from a job in the solar energy industry.
Solar energy will preheat their hot water, run the refrigeration equipment and the production side of the winery, and power the irrigation pump for their newly planted estate vineyard.
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And electric car owners will be able to charge their cars with solar energy while they visit the tasting room, thanks to a charging station.
The duo opened their new $411,000 winery at the end of September, just in time for Red Mountain Rendezvous, an annual block party where visitors get to meet the growers and winemakers of Red Mountain wines.
With the opening of the 5,000-square-foot winery, the Hamiltons have closed their 4-year-old Queensgate tasting room.
Milton, the Hamilton Cellars stickman logo, invites visitors inside the new facility with a glass of wine in his hand.
His name was suggested by one of the winery's wine club members, using part of the Hamiltons' last name. Their club is the Miltonaires.
"This is what wine is all about," Stacie Hamilton said. "It's fun. It's not pretentious. It's fermented grape juice."
The couple made the decision to open a winery as they looked toward retirement. Both enjoy wine tasting and traveling.
They were members of Charlie Hoppes' wine club, and asked him if he would become their winemaker. Hoppes is the owner and winemaker for Fidelitas Wines. Stacie Hamilton, a retired certified public accountant, said it's been a good collaboration.
Hamilton Cellars specializes in Malbec, setting it apart from other wineries that tend to center on Cabernet Sauvignon, the best-selling wine worldwide. Stacie Hamilton said they focus on Malbec because it's what they love to drink.
It also seemed to have long-term potential. Malbec is huge in Asia, becoming a preferred wine in that area, Russ Hamilton said.
Last year, the most expensive wine grape in Washington was Red Mountain Malbec. There are only a few pockets of Malbec in the warm growing region, which is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hamilton Cellars' specialties are a Malbec, a rose of Malbec and a Malbec-based dessert wine. They also offer other wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Viognier Semillon blend.
Hamilton Cellars wines are made from grapes from all over the region, including the Horse Heaven Hills, the Yakima Valley and Wahluke Slope.
This year, the Hamiltons planted about 10 acres for their estate vineyard next to their new winery. Grandview grower Dick Boushey is managing that vineyard.
In two years, they hope to be able to source all of their red grapes from their own vines.
With the new winery, Stacie Hamilton will get a chance to try her hand at winemaking. She has earned a winemaking certificate from the University of California, Davis.
Hoppes will remain the winemaker for Hamilton Cellars, while Stacie Hamilton said her wines will likely come out under a second yet-to-be-named label.
Thomas Henick-Kling, Washington State University viticulture and enology program director, and some WSU student interns will help with the new wine label.
The Hamiltons are ardent supporters of the Wine Science Center, donating $100,000 in 2013 to help building it.
The first Hamilton Cellars wines were made at Canon De Sol, but now are made at the former Budweiser distribution building in Richland. The Hamiltons, who own the facility, finished remodeling in 2010 and a number of wineries use the production facility.
The tasting room, at 55410 N. Sunset Road outside Benton City, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 daily.
The $5 tasting room fee is refundable with a purchase of Hamilton Cellars wine.
For more information, go to www.hamiltoncellars.com.