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Red Mountain Development Heats Up

County approves plan for 'viticultural park' including 21-acre wine village

by Peter Mitham
red mountain wine village
Benton County commissioners approved the Red Mountain development project this week.
Prosser, Wash.—The stage is set for greater development on Washington state’s Red Mountain, with the approval this week of a master site plan that envisions a 21-acre wine village and additional vineyard development.

Originally drafted in 2007 under the leadership of Bend, Ore., landscape architecture and planning firm J.T. Atkins Co. PC, the latest iteration of the plan was sent by Benton County planners to the county commissioners for approval earlier this year. The commission approved the plan following a public hearing Tuesday morning.

“These are the guidelines (or plan) for that area, and from that plan we have to come up with a regulatory process: the zoning ordinances,” said Susan Walker, senior planner with Benton County.

Right now, the area addressed by the master site plan enjoys GMA (Growth Management Area) Agriculture and Rural Lands 5-Acre (RL-5) designations. RL-5 zoning allows wineries and breweries of up to 3,000 square feet, but larger wineries, farm markets and more intensive, commercial uses require conditional-use permits.

The new plan establishes a comprehensive framework for the development of bylaws governing larger-scale development rooted in the mountain’s reputation as a source of premium grapes and wine.

“They’ve noted that area is something special as far as viticulture. They see a vision for that future that’s more in the realm of wineries,” Walker told Wines & Vines.

While state regulations allow for destination resorts in rural areas, drafting ordinances that regulate the exact form of a development is a county matter. Benton County staff will begin drafting the rules and regulations for Red Mountain later this year.

“We need to develop a Red Mountain agricultural district, and we need to come up with a master plan resort ordinance,” Walker said.

“The vision for the Red Mountain AVA is that the area will become a ‘viticultural park’ providing visitors a wide range of recreation and interpretive experiences that complement the vineyard and winery related experiences,” the plan states.

This includes a wine village on 21 acres that includes an interpretive center, restaurants, shops and galleries as well as upwards of 90 rooms at an inn and five to 10 wineries. The vision also includes a general store and shops intended to serve local wineries. The village will sit in the middle of a network of hiking, biking and equestrian trails that will immerse visitors in the region’s beauty and lead from winery to winery.

“Visitors can plan to spend the day or multiple days at Red Mountain and tour many wineries or visit the wineries on their favorites list,” the plan says. “The village could also include offices, a general store and small working shops that supply the wineries and vineyards with products and services like corks, capsules, labels, barrels and cellar equipment.”

Parallel to Benton County’s master site plan, the Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) is moving forward with long-standing plans to bring irrigation water to Red Mountain (see “Water for Washington Vineyards”).

The district’s original irrigation infrastructure dates to 1917. The last major development occurred in 1954. Development since then has exhausted surface water rights, driving growers to tap groundwater—so long as the volume didn’t exceed the volume of the original water rights.

Preparations are under way for a new system that will supply Red Mountain with water from the Yakima River via a pressurized and metered pipe system. The water will be pumped from Kiona, about 14 miles down the Yakima River from the current extraction point at Prosser, preserving stream flows while meeting the needs of growers.

Two tank-style reservoirs are planned for Red Mountain. One containing 100,000 gallons will be recessed into the mountain on a site recently acquired from Whitaker Estates, which sits at an elevation of 1,070 feet. A second one with a capacity of 400,000 gallons will be constructed underground at an elevation of 838 feet.

Site preparation for the pump house is set to begin shortly. The four-phase project is scheduled to be done June 2014.

The system is designed to provide 1.5 acre-feet of water annually to up to 1,785 acres of vineyard—well above the 400 acres that rely on groundwater today. While growers are paying an annual assessment to cover the cost of the project, many expect the cost to be less than that to maintain their own wells.

The master site plan envisions up to 2,000 extra acres of vineyard in the area it covers, for a total of 3,080 acres under vine (the Red Mountain AVA as a whole encompasses 4,040 acres, with approximately 1,400 acres of vineyard at present).

“With the introduction of KID irrigation water to the AVA, fewer properties will depend on groundwater for irrigation. This could free up water right capacity currently used for irrigation to be used for other uses such as commercial, retail and wine tasting rooms,” the new plan states.

Walker said the master site plan and irrigation infrastructure will work together to support agricultural growth on Red Mountain.

 “The farmers are very excited about having KID irrigation; they’re able to open up more land for vineyards,” she told Wines & Vines. “They want to see vineyards up there, so you can see the connection.”

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