Bookwalter Winery plans $4M expansion

Construction begins on the Richland winery’s addition in February, with completion set for summer’s end

For nearly 10 years, John Bookwalter dreamed of expanding his winery and restaurant.

The dream begins taking shape in February, when J. Bookwalter Winery breaks ground on a $4 million expansion that will more than triple the size of its winery, tasting room and restaurant at 894 Tulip Lane, near Queensgate in south Richland.

The 20,000-square-foot addition will transform the way J. Bookwalter Winery and its Fiction restaurant operate, said Bookwalter, president and chief executive officer. The addition will displace a vineyard next to the current 8,000-square-foot building.

“We’re hoping to open it in late August,” he said.

The expansion will consolidate almost everything J. Bookwalter offers in a single location.

The new space will house offices, meeting and conference rooms, tasting rooms, barrel storage, expanded restaurant seating and a spacious commercial kitchen.

“We outgrew our production space eight to 10 years ago,” he said. “We’ve needed the space.”

Chervenell Construction of Kennewick is the general contractor. MMEC of Kennewick is the architect.

Bookwalter is excited.

“We’ve been in this business 36 years. But this new project, I’ve had in my mind for a good decade,” he said.

Bookwalter expects to add new full- and part-time workers with the expansion, which will let it bring home storage and production that currently happens off site.

The majority of its case goods, or wine bottles, are stored at Vintner Logistics in Kennewick and its wine barrels at the Richland Airport.

“We have almost 10 acres here. So a good portion of the case goods and all barrels come back here,” he said.

Bottle and barrel storage isn’t the only thing it’s outsourced.

Bookwalter has produced wines off-site at Mercer Estates and Goose Ridge. 

There will be three barrel rooms — one each for fermenting, finishing and reserves.

Visitors will notice the upgrades.

“On the production side, we’ll have a tasting room, plus a private tasting room,” he said. “It’s built around the customer.”

The office and meeting space is long overdue. Bookwalter and his key employees have worked out of a trailer for temporary office space.

The extra meeting space is a feature Bookwalter says is needed. “We’ll have two banquet rooms available to us, 365 days a year,” he said.

The current setup includes a partial banquet room, when not in use as a wine cellar.

“I would like to see companies view our entire property and facilities as a place to hold corporate retreats and events,” Bookwalter said.

Bookwalter’s father, Jerry, was a ninth-generation farmer working in the San Joaquin Valley in California when he moved the family to the Tri-Cities in the 1970s. Jerry Bookwalter spent several years planting vineyards before venturing into the viticulture business by establishing the winery that bears his name in 1982.

John spent a decade in the late 1980s and 1990s working in sales and marketing for Ernest & Julio Gallo, the Winterbrook Beverage Group, and the Coors Brewing Co.

He returned to the family business as a winemaker and soon put his own stamp on the business.

In 2008, he opened a restaurant at the winery called Fiction to pair his wines with food. originated as a small bistro conceived to give wine tourists a spot to stop and enjoy the setting.

That restaurant has become quite popular.

Restaurant sales topped $1 million for the first time in 2016.

“It will exceed $2.25 million in sales this year,” Bookwalter said.

It’s won numerous awards under executive chef Fransisco Mendoza, who has been with Bookwalter for seven years. Food & Wine magazine named Fiction one of the best winery restaurants in America in August 2018.

Bookwalter said the winery’s identity has evolved over the last few years.

“We used to be a winery with a restaurant,” he said. “Now we’re known as a restaurant with a winery attached.”

Currently, the restaurant can seat 80 customers at one time indoors, and during good weather, another 150 customers outside.

The expansion will add another 40 seats inside.

One of the biggest additions will happen out of sight of customers. To help Mendoza and his staff, the kitchen will expand from 300 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

“That should be ready by 2021,” Bookwalter said.

Bookwalter’s wines have collected their share of awards around the Northwest and beyond through the years.

Bookwalter wines were cited as part of the reason Wine Spectator magazine ranked the Pacific Northwest No. 4 in its Top 100 wine regions listing in 2018.

In 2014, John Bookwalter turned over the winemaking responsibility to Caleb Foster.

That’s allowed him to spend more of his time overseeing the winery and the restaurant. And now this new, upcoming project.

Though the business also operates a tasting room on the west side of the state in Woodinville, it’s the Richland location that draws a lot of interest.

“Thirty percent of our customers come from outside the Northwest,” Bookwalter said. “A lot of local clientele love to come here, taste wine and then enjoy lunch or dinner.” 

People moving into the area are looking for activities to do, Bookwalter said.

“We’re trying to create a destination,” he said. “There is more interest to come here. It’s about customer enjoyment. How do we do this? This is how. The customer wants an experience. And we need the space and facility to do this.”

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