Columbia Gardens Wine Village poised for fall opening

May 22, 2017 

As construction crews at the Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Wine Village hustle to make up for days lost to an exceptionally harsh winter, the project’s second phase is about to begin next door.

While snow and cold idled construction, port officials worked with their Phase 2 project partners, the City of Kennewick and Benton County, to nail down $2.1 million to pay for paving, curbs, concrete work and utilities and then launch that work this summer, aiming to blend it seamlessly with completion of the first three buildings started last fall.

The infrastructure money also will be used to extend connections to and begin similar work on the port’s nearby Willows property, the site of Columbia Basin College’s planned culinary program.

“We’ll have the loop road, parking lot and space for food trucks,” said Tim Arntzen, port executive director. “It’s all going to materialize” as construction proceeds. He credits cooperation with the city and the county for expediting the development at both sites.

The city has played a key role in creating and permitting an effluent treatment system and in building an updated “streetscape” of sidewalks, boulevards and bus stops along Columbia Drive, the former highway that marks the project’s south boundary.

Phase 2 is funded by Benton County’s share of the state Rural County Capital Fund, created by the Legislature to pay for economic development projects using sales tax rebate money.

“The port did a great job with its application,” said Adam Fyall, Benton County’s sustainable development manager. “The wine industry has a great deal of appeal, and this project takes it to a whole other level. I think it’s really going to take off.”

Arntzen said a small restaurant business has expressed interest in a piece of Phase 2 property owned by the port and other wineries have talked with port officials about locating tasting rooms there.

As April and May passed, two winery buildings — one to house winemaker Victor Palencia’s La Monarcha label and the other for Bart Fawbush’s Bartholomew Winery — began to rise from foundations set last fall. A third building will serve as controlled-climate barrel storage for the two wineries and house public restrooms, which will allow the food trucks to operate on site.

In 2018, Arntzen also foresees a shade pavilion to support special events and to help attract those who come to walk the hiking and biking paths, visit the wineries and frequent food trucks assembled for special events and weekends.

Talks with federal and state wildlife officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have yielded approval to thin, trim or remove non-native vegetation around the pond the wineries will overlook. Duffy’s Pond is a freshwater arm of the Columbia River cut off by an Army Corps dike.

“That will make it a critical piece of the project and provide some watchable wildlife,” Arntzen said. Among the birds and small mammals that frequent the pond area are bald eagles, great blue heron, several species of waterfowl and river otters and muskrats.

Those natural attractions, combined with high traffic volumes along Columbia Drive, helped attract Palencia and Fawbush, who will move his South Seattle winery’s winemaking operations here but keep his tasting room in the old Rainier Brewery complex to serve his West Side fans.

Because of the winter work delays, he expects to crush his grapes and make the 2017 vintage in Seattle, then shift to Kennewick. He hopes to have a tasting counter open in the new building in October after harvest and hold holiday season events to kick off his operation in Columbia Gardens.

The move to Kennewick will be a family operation. Bart’s wife Chona is arranging a job transfer to the Tri-Cities, their son plans to enroll in one of the high schools and they’ll find a home in the Tri-Cities after their Seattle-area home is sold.

Once the Kennewick winery opens, Fawbush said his focus will be to grow the Bartholomew label on this side of the state and potentially start a new label, “more in a little bit lower price bracket.”

His existing customer base is excited about the change and some already are looking forward to visiting the Kennewick winery. At his existing tasting room, a veteran employee will take over.

Although Bartholomew will be a new label for most Tri-Citians, the wine grapes come from some familiar sources, including the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain. His wines include big reds, dry whites and a tasty rosé made from Carménère.

Like Fawbush, Palencia has made arrangements to handle the winemaking for his La Monarcha label at existing facilities for 2017, then focus on his new facility and get his tasting room up and operating in the fall.

“I’m excited to host food trucks, food and culture nights and other events all tailored around the wineries,” he said. “When you bring food and wine together, there’s synergy.”

He said he and Fawbush bring together “a broad spectrum of varietals and prices” ranging from Bordeaux grape varieties to the Rhone region.

And Palencia has a unique vision for one attraction at his winery — a chance to observe the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, which appears on his La Monarcha label. He plans to open a butterfly garden, raise the migratory butterflies there and release them for their flight south to Michoacan province in Mexico, his family’s ancestral home.

He sees it as an allegory for the migrant families who settled in the Mid-Columbia and helped build the region’s agriculture and wine industry. And as a way to emphasize that his wines carry a focus of sustainability and love for the land.

Ken Robertson, retired editor of the Tri-City Herald, has written for Wine Press Northwest since its founding in 1998 and been sipping Northwest wines and writing about them since 1976. He also has worked as a consultant for the Port of Kennewick since 2014.

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