Treating wastewater from wineries isn’t the sexiest step in the journey from vineyard to bottle to wine glass.
Ditto for bottling, shipping and the myriad other activities involved with producing Washington’s celebrated vintages.
It’s no secret Washington’s wine star is on the rise — wine grape production topped 210,000 tons in 2013; when the 2016 harvest is recorded, it’s expected to be twice what it was a decade ago.
The Mid-Columbia is racing to keep up with a fast-growing segment of the local economy by making substantial investments in wine-making infrastructure.
From a new wastewater treatment designed to handle process water from nearby wineries to a massive addition to the Railex wine warehouse and distribution center at Wallula, the public and private sectors are investing heavily in facilities to boost the business of wine.
“All over the state, you’re seeing different development and growth, be it infrastructure, wineries or plantings, “ said Heather Bradshaw, communications director for the Washington State Wine Commission.
The Washington wine industry was growing at an annualized rate of almost 9 percent, according to the most recent economic impact study, based on 2013 figures.
West Richland’s new industrial wastewater treatment plant, “I-Plant” for short, is just the latest addition to the wine-making landscape.
Spurred by the arrival of Pacific Rim Winery almost a decade ago, the city invested $3.1 million in the plant, which is designed specifically to handle the effluent associated with wine making. It does not handle domestic wastewater that goes down regular drains and toilets.
The I-Plant can support production of up to 2.5 million cases of wine annually and can be expanded when the industry catches up. Pacific Rim discharges its production wastewater to the I-Plant, as does Red Mountain Winery. Soon, Double Canyon Winery, owned by California-based Crimson Wine Group, will as well.
The I-Plant begun fulfilling its economic development mission in August, when Double Canyon Winery broke ground on a 47,000-square-foot production plant in West Richland. Construction is proceeding within sight of the I-Plant.
It is expected to be operational by August and will have an initial capacity of 50,000 cases. The company cited its proximity to the Horse Heaven Hills and the Washington State University wine research facility for its decision to invest in West Richland.
For West Richland, the I-Plant is the culmination of a yearslong process to prepare for growing wastewater volumes generated by the rising interest in wine making at the Red Mountain viticultural area.
Roscoe Slade III, the city’s public works director, said the city welcomed Pacific Rim when it began operating about eight years ago. The startup discharged its process wastewater into the city’s newly updated sewage treatment plant,.
But Slade said that wasn’t a long-term solution. Winery waste can contain as much as 35 times more solid materials as regular municipal sewage. Growth in the wine industry would quickly overwhelm the city’s ability to treat all wastewater.
There were numerous setbacks, but in the end, the city secured a $2 million low-interest infrastructure loan from the state and installed a microorganism-based system developed by Cloacina, a California company that specializes in wastewater treatment, particularly in wineries.
The I-Plant dramatically cleans winery waste before sending it to the main plant for final treatment.
Slade said the arrangement freed up 10 years of growth capacity in its plant and gave the city an attractive solution to wine makers’ wastewater challenges.
With the I-Plant on line as of August, West Richland is attempting to woo more wineries as well as creameries, distilleries and breweries.
West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry, who inherited the project from two predecessors, said the plant will support not only industrial wine making facilities, but also the tasting rooms and associated tourism-related infrastructure they inspire.
“The council didn’t want to throw money at a project because it was cool,” he said. But Double Canyon’s decision to consolidate its wine making activities near the plant proved the concept.
“You can say, ‘Build it and they will come,’ because they did.”
The I-Plant isn’t the only recent investment in the wine industry.
On Oct. 6, Railex Wine Services announced that it will invest $10 million to construct the second phase of its massive wine storage and distribution center at the Port of Walla Walla in Wallula.
The 250,000-square-foot expansion will bring the rail-served warehouse to a mind-boggling 750,000 square feet, or more than 17 acres.
The warehouse is chiefly used by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates brands. Ste. Michelle accounts for eight of the states top 10 brands. including the region’s fastest growing brand, 14 Hands. The expansion will open the facility to the entire Northwest wine industry, providing a distribution link to the entire nation.
Tasting room investment
In late September, the Port of Kennewick hired Banlin Construction to build its Columbia Gardens Wine and Artisan Village project in the 400 block of East Columbia Drive, near Duffy’s Pond. Banlin begins work this month and is expected to wrap up construction of two tasting rooms and a barrel storage facility in time for tenants to operate there before the 2017 crush.
The port wants to transform an industrial stretch of Columbia Drive into a visitor destination that capitalizes on its location adjoining the pond and the Columbia River. The port reports strong interest from prospective tenants. The city of Kennewick is supporting the project with streetscape improvements and a pretreatment system for wastewater from any wine making that takes place at the site.
Though the Washington Wine Commission typically focuses on marketing Washington vintages and expanding its global marketshare, the promotional agency welcomes the investment in systems that foster production.
“We’re really excited by the outside investment coming in from all over,” said the wine commission’s Bradshaw.
Economic impact of Washington wine in 2013
- 50,000 acres planted
- 210,000 tons of wine grapes
- 14.8 million cases of wine
- 25,900 jobs
- $4.8 billion economic impact
Source: Washington State Wine Commission, Wine & Wine Grapes in Washington State, August 2015