The vision for a vibrant riverfront wine village in Kennewick that’s been a decade or so in the making now includes two wineries.
The wineries … are going to be a real asset to our whole project at Columbia Drive.Skip Novakovich, president of the Port of Kennewick commissioners
It’s closer to reality after Port of Kennewick commissioners gave the go-ahead Dec. 13 to pursue tenant agreements with an award-winning Walla Walla winemaker who grew up in Prosser and a Seattle winery known for using unique grape varieties.
They both plan to move their winery headquarters to Kennewick and open tasting rooms facing the river and riverfront walking trail.
Port CEO Tim Arntzen said the wineries will turn the planned wine development into something special.
“Take Cedars. It’s just a building but when you have Cedars in it, you have the finest restaurant in our community. When you have superb tenants, it becomes the wine village,” Arntzen said. “Victor Palencia and Bartholomew Winery each in their own right are top-shelf wineries.”
Port commissioners authorized staff to draft a non-binding letter of intent to the winery owners so they can move forward with their plans to open in 2017.
The port will charge the wineries 65 cents per square foot to lease the space.
Palencia Wine Co. will be in 3,888 square feet with a 600-foot loft and Bartholomew Winery will be in 4,525 square feet with a similarly sized loft. Both will share a 3,888-square-foot barrel storage and case goods building.
“The wineries … are going to be a real asset to our whole project at Columbia Drive,” said Skip Novakovich, president of the Port of Kennewick commissioners.
Palencia — recognized as a top winemaker in the state — produces more than 1 million cases of wine per year at his day job overseeing J&S Crushing’s high-volume, custom-crush operation in Mattawa, according to Great Northwest Wine. The company also owns Jones of Washington where Palencia is head winemaker. Palencia’s weekends are dedicated to his own small winery in an incubator building at the Walla Walla Regional Airport.
Port commissioners asked a lot of questions about Bartholomew Winery since they weren’t familiar with the Seattle operation.
Port Commissioner Tom Moak wanted to know why the winery wanted to move to the Tri-Cities.
Winemaker Bart Fawbush, 43, of West Seattle, told the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business he looks forward to moving his family and winery to Kennewick.
He said he’s excited to come to a place “with open spaces, less traffic, more sunshine days.”
Fawbush plans to move to the Tri-Cities with his wife Chona and their eighth-grader this summer. He and his wife sat down for their annual goal-setting in 2015 and decided it was time to take their business to the next level: Find a winery first, buy a vineyard and live near the grapes. The timing is perfect, he said, so their son can start high school in a new place as a freshman.
“We’re moving the winery and household and the only thing we’re leaving behind is the tasting room,” he said.
The winemaker makes his wines in a West Seattle warehouse and pours them in the former Rainier Brewery facility along Interstate 5 in Seattle.
The nine-year-old winery sources its grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. It annually produces 2,000 to 2,500 cases.
Fawbush plans to keep the tasting room in Seattle as he launches production in Kennewick.
His goal is to continue to make “really good wine for a really good price, focusing on varieties people haven’t thought of or aren’t familiar with,” he said, citing such wine grapes as Carmenere, Aligote, Petit Verdot and Souzao.
The Kennewick winery will have a full-time employee as well as part-time staff to help with all the Eastern Washington operations, Fawbush said. He expects to create three to four new jobs in the first 24 months.
Fawbush doesn’t consider his company a boutique winery but a microwinery working with limited quantities. He’s the sole winemaker doing everything from picking up grapes, transporting them to West Seattle, making the wine, barrel aging it, topping, blending, filtering and bottling — with the help of a cadre of volunteers.
“We’re just really excited about this opportunity … and to come over there and be a rich success,” he said.
The port began buying property along Columbia Drive in 2007 and demolished seven structures in 2015 to clear the way for the village. One of the structures was in the old Cable Greens property next the cable bridge and six were in the Columbia Gardens redevelopment property.
The port launched an “aggressive marketing effort” to attract boutique wine production operators to the wine village and received three applications.
The third applicant, who has not been named and who has its production site elsewhere, is interested in placement opportunities for the second phase of the project. The commissioners agreed to allow staff to continue negotiating with this potential tenant.
The second phase of the project hasn’t been approved by the port or Kennewick City Council, Arntzen said, but it’s expected to move forward in 2017.
The idea is to build a small loop road near the wineries that will connect three or four parcels of land that could someday be home to other complementary businesses or more wineries. Also planned is a picnic area with space for four food trucks.
The intention for one of the larger parcels is for a custom 16,000-square-foot grape-crushing facility that could accommodate five to six wineries.
The city of Kennewick is committed to the installation of a wine-effluent pre-treatment system as well as streetscaping, sidewalks, street lighting and additional work on the scenic nature trail by Duffy’s Pond near the wine village.