Richland winery opens riverside tasting room in Vancouver

A Richland winery has opened a tasting room downriver from the Tri-Cities in hopes of expanding its customer base.

Barnard Griffin’s new storefront joined a growing number of wineries setting up shop at The Waterfront in Vancouver, just across the Columbia River from Portland.

“It’s been a long time in the planning,” said Deborah Barnard, co-owner of the winery. “Once Covid hit, we weren’t in a huge hurry.”

But the pandemic did point out the importance of direct-to-consumer opportunities for sales, she said.

“Our brand was reliant on wholesale trade but when restaurants all over the country closed, this suffered,” she said.

The winery chose the Vancouver mixed-use development because it’s such an interesting project. She said she wished the Tri-Cities offered something similar. The winery’s new tasting room opened in the Rediviva building at 665 W. Columbia Way on Dec. 18.

The Waterfront is quickly becoming the state’s new wine-tasting hub. Barnard Griffith is the seventh winery to open there. Another Benton County winery, Prosser-based Airfield Estates, opened a tasting room in early 2020. Naked Winery announced plans to open in 2021.

“The interest from wineries at The Waterfront has been a really pleasant surprise and we’re delighted to see it become such a destination for wine tourism in Southwest Washington,” said Barry Cain, owner of Gramor Development, the lead developer at The Waterfront. “Barnard Griffin winery is a shining example of the type of business that we love to see at The Waterfront — they have a longstanding history in the state, and are producing award-winning wines with a strong following.”

The $1.5 billion development encompasses 20 blocks and 32 acres facing the Columbia River, offering 1.25 million feet of Class A office space, 250,000 square feet of planned restaurant and retail space, 3,300 planned residential units and a 1/2-mile waterfront park.

“It’s an amazing project and a good opportunity for us,” Barnard said.

The Barnard Griffin tasting room is only open for retail purchases because of pandemic restrictions. Barnard said the winery will continue to follow state reopening rules.

The new venue features Deborah Barnard’s fused glass. The face of the bar features colors from the Gorge as drivers travel from the Tri-Cities to Vancouver. (Courtesy Barnard Griffin)

Barnard said visitors have already discovered the new tasting room.

“One thing we heard loud and clear – from restaurant managers actually – is that they would send people to wineries to go taste and wineries wouldn’t be open and people would be angry at the restaurant. You’ve to be consistent. We kind of monitor that ourselves. We found a lot of foot traffic coming to us because others were closed. Above us are condos and they’re finding us. They watched us get ready to open and were intrigued. As the weather improves, visitor count will pick up,” Barnard said.

She said the winery plans to target the nearby Portland community. “It would definitely be a source to help grow wine club members. We don’t have as many as we’d like to from there. People can only drink so much pinot noir,” she said, referring to Willamette Valley wines.

The winery is reviewing its options with the city to offer outdoor seating for people to sit and relax with a bottle or glass of wine. Grab-and-go foods will be available.

The new 1,000-square-foot tasting room marks a first for the 38-year-old winery.

“This is the first one, for as old as we are,” she said.

Many wineries operate secondary tastings rooms elsewhere around the state – Woodinville, Leavenworth, Georgetown in Seattle, Spokane and Chelan. Unlike some other locations, the Vancouver development offers plenty of parking, Barnard said.

The new venue features Barnard’s glass-fused artwork.

The face of the bar features colors from the Gorge as drivers travel from the Tri-Cities to Vancouver: corals, grays, browns and a little bit of green. She said it’s intended to capture feelings of warmth.

The new facility also features soundproofing in the ceiling and behind the seating area. “It’s important for people to hear each other,” she said.

The winery spent $42,000 on interior renovations, according to a building permit filed with the city of Vancouver.

The winery’s Richland tasting room remains open despite closing its on-site Richland restaurant, called The Kitchen, in July, a casualty of pandemic restrictions.

It continues to offer light fare but “we really want to concentrate on the wine tasting experience,” she said.

“The coronavirus really has changed the way we invite people to taste wine,” she said.

Instead of visitors bellying up to the bar to taste, the winery serves them in small groups, typically in clustered seated areas.

Barnard said it’s a return to what wine tasting should be: an educational experience.

The Richland winery is open for retail sales and wine club member pickups. It offers heaters and blankets if people want to taste wine outdoors.

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