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Prosser Becomes Winery Hub

Wineries cluster in industrial developments; Walter Clore educational center on the way to Washington city

by Paul Franson
Prosser Vintners Village
An early aerial view of Prosser Vintners Village displays ample space for wineries and related businesses.
Prosser, Wash. --  The small Yakima Valley city of Prosser is rapidly establishing itself as the center of Washington’s booming Columbia Valley wine region.

The city of 5,000 on the Yakima River now boasts about 30 wineries, the Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center, and is the site for the upcoming Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

Bids will be opened this week for the first phase of the latter attraction. Meanwhile, a popular winery cluster is being expanded; an innkeeper just signed for an adjacent future B&B with antique and cheese shops.

It hasn’t happened by chance, however. The aggressive Port of Benton development district seeded the growth. A few years ago, it began the transformation of a former industrial park into the Prosser Wine and Food Park by selling space to Hogue Cellars for a winery. That winery has grown dramatically and now produces 650,000 cases per year.

Five other wineries, a distillery and three apple-processing plants round out the offerings in what is still a business-oriented development. The new 32-acre Prosser Vintners Village is aimed directly at tourists. The site just off the major interstate highway boasts 14 wineries and tasting rooms, one with a wine bar and restaurant.

Expanding Vintners Village

The port paid $1.1 million for 19 acres adjacent to the village in October 2008 for expansion. The port begins creating the infrastructure in the new area next week; 17 acres will be subdivided into plots of one-half to 1 acre, to sell for about $130,000 to $170,000 per acre.

The property also will include a bed and breakfast inn, a desirable addition to the tourism infrastructure in the area. Diahann Howard, director of economic development/governmental affairs for the Port of Benton, told Wines & Vines that Deborah Augustavo just signed an agreement to buy the 1912-vintage Seven Gables home on the site and turn it into a B&B.

Augustavo owned and operated The Broadway Grill on Seattle’s Capitol Hill for nearly 20 years, but she sold that business and plans to move to Prosser and run the inn. She also intends to develop some of the outbuildings on the 2.5-acre site, one into an antique shop, one a cheese shop.

The Prosser Vintner's Village currently includes 14 wine businesses, a 10-acre plant nursery and the Winemaker’s Loft incubator, which was recently sold to Dearborn LLC by original developer Mike Haddox. New owner Kari Saccomanno (e-mail), bought the property in June 2009.

Saccomanno said the Winemaker’s Loft is 100% leased for the first time, with seven wineries. Six have private 1,000-square-foot areas for tasting rooms, fermenting, aging and storage; and one has 3,000 square feet. They share the crush pad and equipment. Saccomanno said more space will open up next year.

City officials expect the cluster developments to work well in the area because most local wineries are not actual estates. Many Eastern Washington wineries source their grapes from well-known vineyards in isolated areas, off the beaten path and lacking typical tourist services. Wineries of all sizes near the major population centers of Seattle, in the west, and Spokane, in the east are accustomed to hauling grapes hundreds of miles from where they are grown. It makes sense, therefore, to locate wineries and tasting rooms in more convenient and populous sites with better infrastructure.

Each wine building in the Vintners’ Village lies on land bought from the port. Some are merely tasting rooms, but others are functioning wineries.

One, Wine O’Clock, is a popular wine bar and casual restaurant owned and managed by the proprietors of Bunnell Family Winery and RiverAerie Cellars.

Links to Prosser wineries

The wine companies in the Prosser Vintners Village complex include:
Airfield Estate Winery (15,000 cases)
Apex Winery (25,000 cases)
Coyote Canyon (2,000 cases)
Gamache Vintners (4,000 cases)
Maison Bleue Winery (2,000 cases)
Martinez & Martinez Winery (1,000 cases)
Milbrandt Vineyards (30,000 cases)
Olsen Estates (6,000 cases)
Plaza Winery (3,000 cases)
RiverAerie Cellars (4,000 cases) / Bunnell Family Cellar
Tasawik Vineyards (200 cases)
Thurston Wolfe Winery (6,000 cases)
Willow Crest Winery (15,000 cases)
• Wine O'clock Wine Bar

Meanwhile, there’s activity at the older Prosser Wine and Food Park not far away. The port will be adding a $1.5 million gasification plant that will be used to turn biomass into steam and power.

The park is a 90-acre site currently housing several wineries, food processing plants, a micro-brewery and a cold storage facility.

Four acres of land zoned for industrial use remain available at this site, and a 35-acre property adjacent to the west side of the park has been purchased for future development by processing plants and high-end wineries. 
Current occupants include:
Alexandria Nicole Winery (9,000 cases)
Cowan Vineyards (1,200 cases)
Heaven's Cave (1,000 cases)
• Hogue Cellars
Kestrel Vintners (30,000 cases)
Mercer Estates (30,000 cases)
• Blue Flame Distilling
• Tree Top Apples
• Zirkle Fruit Co. (also apples)
• Kenyon Zero Storage (apple storage)

Walter Clore center
In related news, construction is expected to begin shortly on the next phase of the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, designed to become a prime educational and promotional center for Washington's wines and food products.

Bids were opened Aug. 25 for a 2,400-square-foot outdoor event facility at the center in Prosser, with completion expected this fall.

Backers hope to snare a $2 million federal Economic Development Administration grant to help pay for construction of the 15,000-square-foot main Clore center building, which is budgeted at $6 million.

The Clore center also will augment the proposed wine science center at WSU Tri-Cities nearby and the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

The two-story Clore center will include a wine tasting room, kitchen, theater, classrooms, offices and conference rooms. At least $1.5 million has been raised in a capital campaign, and the Washington Department of Commerce has committed $2 million.
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