Columbia Gardens Wine Village opens in Kennewick
Bart Fawbush and Victor Palencia are the first two winemakers to open shop in new multi-million-dollar project.
Article by Ken Robertson
Photos by Ivory Leininger
If you build it, they will come. That was the case on Friday, Feb. 9th when hundreds of residents of Washington’s Tri-Cities communities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland turned out for the official opening of the Port of Kennewick’s new Columbia Gardens Wine Village.
Aiming to bring Washington’s wine industry back to its geographic roots – where the waters of the Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers join — the new Wine Village is part of a revitalization project the Port of Kennewick, the City of Kennewick and Benton County have been working on for more than a decade.
The Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers are the common water source for most of Eastern Washington’s wine grapes and thus the majority of the state’s vineyards, since only small amounts of wine grapes are grown west of the Cascade Mountains.
The Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens Wine Village, perched on Columbia Drive just off the Columbia River’s south shoreline in Kennewick’s old downtown, is just a few miles downstream from the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima and even closer to where the Snake and Columbia join a bit farther downstream.
The project, a joint venture between the Port of Kennewick and the City of Kennewick, with a financial boost from Benton County, is uniting east and west as well. It will be home to Bartholomew Winery, known for its boutique operation in the old Rainier Brewing complex in south Seattle, and Palencia Wine Company, owned by one of the state’s most talented younger winemakers, Victor Palencia.
Bart and Chona Fawbush of Bartholomew opened their doors to weekend customers in mid-December and have begun reinventing their winemaking operation inside one of the new Kennewick buildings. The couple has also moved to the Tri-Cities. They are keeping the Rainier facility open for tasting and sales.
Palencia, known for his Palencia Wine Co. based in the cluster of wineries at the Walla Walla Airport, will make the wines for his Vino La Monarcha label in the Kennewick wine village’s second building, which is next to Bartholomew. The two operations will share a third building to house climate-controlled barrel storage for their operations.
Columbia Gardens is part of a downtown Kennewick revitalization project the community has worked on for more than a decade. When Kennewick City officials and community members first embarked on imagining how to revive the shabby area, it was home to car repair shops, body shops, used car dealerships, pawn shops and crumbling mobile home parks that dated to the 1940s. At first, many area residents were skeptical that a project of this kind would succeed.
But then the Port of Kennewick began acquiring parcels of land in the area from willing sellers and assisting mobile home park residents with their transition to modern, safer, improved housing elsewhere.
Some of the old structures were demolished, the decrepit trailers removed and the area was cleaned up. Starting in 2013, Port officials began attending the annual convention of the Washington Winegrowers Association to show off architectural drawings, building mockups and offering a pitch to inform winemakers and winery owners about the newly named Columbia Village.
In the fall of 2017, Fawbush and Palencia were chosen as the first two tenants for the wine village from a field winnowed down from applicants from across the state. Construction began a few weeks later.
The exceptionally cold and snowy winter of 2016-17 idled builders for six weeks, but Port officials went to work with their partners, the City of Kennewick and Benton County, to nail down $1.5 million to pay for paving, curbs, concrete work and utilities on adjacent land in what will be Phase 2 of the development. There, winery tasting rooms, restaurants and bistros and other wine-related businesses are planned.
The infrastructure money also is to be used to extend connections to and begin similar work on the port’s nearby Willows property, the future site of Columbia Basin College’s culinary program.
“We’ll have a loop road, parking lot and space for food trucks,” said Tim Arntzen, port executive director. “It’s all going to materialize” as construction proceeds. He credits cooperation with the city and county for expediting development.
The city has played a key role in creating and permitting a winery effluent treatment system and in building an updated “streetscape” of sidewalks, boulevards and bus stops along Columbia Drive, a former federal highway that marks the project’s south boundary.
Phase 2 is funded by Benton County’s share of the state Rural County Capital Fund, created by the Legislature to pay for economic development projects using sales tax rebate money.
“The port did a great job with its application,” said Adam Fyall, Benton County’s sustainable development manager. “The wine industry has a great deal of appeal, and this project takes it to a ‘whole ‘nother level.’ I think it’s really going to take off.”
Arntzen said a small restaurant business has expressed interest in a piece of Phase 2 property owned by the port and other wineries are talking with port officials about locating tasting rooms and perhaps a winery bistro there.
After heavy snows collapsed one vacant building envisioned as part of Phase 2, port officials hired a contractor to clear the site, and using insurance proceeds, plan to erect a new building to house wine tasting rooms and perhaps wine-related businesses.
The barrel storage building (completed in Phase 1) houses public restrooms, which will allow food trucks to operate on a site next to Bartholomew Winery and Vino la Monarcha. Fawbush and Palencia envision the food trucks will be an important part of their wineries’ special events and wine club activities.
Arntzen also foresees a shade pavilion to support special events and to help attract those who come to walk the hiking and biking paths on the north side of the property, to visit the wineries and to frequent the food trucks.
The wine village overlooks Duffy’s Pond, a freshwater arm of the Columbia River formed by an Army Corps of Engineers levee. Talks with federal and state wildlife officials and the Corps of Engineers yielded approval to thin, trim or remove non-native vegetation around the pond, which is now an esthetically pleasing part of the development.
“That makes it a critical piece of the project and provides some watchable wildlife,” Arntzen said. Among the birds and small mammals that frequent the pond area are bald eagles, great blue heron, several species of waterfowl, river otters and muskrats.
Those natural attractions, combined with high traffic volumes along Columbia Drive, helped attract Palencia and Fawbush.
Fawbush said his focus will be to grow the Bartholomew label on the east side of the state and potentially start a new label, “more in a little bit lower price bracket.” His existing customer base is excited about his new facility and many are looking forward to visiting the Kennewick winery, which currently is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Hours will expand come springtime and warmer weather.
Although Bartholomew will be a new label for most in the Tri-Cities, the wine grapes come from familiar sources, including the Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain. His wines include hefty reds, dry whites and a tasty rosé made from Carménère.
Like Fawbush, Palencia is excited about his new operation, which will open formally on Feb. 10. Until then, he plans some “soft opening” activities as he gets new furnishings and amenities in place. “I’m excited to host food trucks, food and culture nights and other events all tailored around the wineries,” he said. “When you bring food and wine together, there’s synergy.”
Palencia said he and Fawbush together offer “a broad spectrum of varietals and prices,” with wines made from grape varieties from the Bordeaux and Rhone regions of France and also from Spain and Italy.
Palencia has a unique vision for one attraction at his winery — a chance to observe the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, which appears on his Vino La Monarcha label. He plans to open a butterfly garden, raise the migratory butterflies there and release them for their flight south to Michoacan province in Mexico, his family’s ancestral home.
He sees it as an allegory for the migrant families who settled in the Mid-Columbia and helped build the region’s agriculture and wine industry — and as a way to emphasize the fact that his wines carry a focus of sustainability and love for the land.
The new Wine Village is located at 421 East Columbia Drive in Kennewick, WA. A full list of wines produced by Bartholomew Winery and Palencia Wine Company can be found on the wineries’ respective websites: www.bartholomewwinery.com and www.palenciawine.com. Phone numbers for the two wineries are: (206) 395-8460 (Bartholomew) and (509) 820-3993.
Ken Robertson, retired editor of the Tri-City Herald, has been sipping Northwest wines and writing about them since 1976.