Vintners Village: Popular wine village in Prosser is getting a new neighbor
New 9,000 square-foot building is expected to be ready for occupancy in late August, early September
By Ken Robertson
The Port of Benton is embarking on a major expansion of its Vintners Village development in Prosser. A 9,000-square-foot building is already under construction as part of a new stage of development that’s expected ultimately to open 18 nearby lots spread over 11.77 acres.
The new structure at the south end of Port Avenue will include three separate bays for lease, each measuring 2,500 square feet. Tenants that sign on to lease space there will be able to finish the interiors to suit their individual needs.
Diahann Howard, the port’s Director of Economic Development and Governmental Affairs. said the Port is close to signing an agreement with the first tenant, which is interested in taking over two of the bays to operate a winery and tasting room. The prospective tenant may eventually acquire an adjacent site and build a permanent home there, Howard said.
The existing part of Vintners Village includes 11 wineries and tasting rooms, plus the Seven Gables Pensione Bed & Breakfast, Yellow Rose Nursery and Wine O’Clock Restaurant, which shares a building with the Bunnell Family Wine Bar.
The Prosser Economic Development Association (PEDA), a partner of the Port, plans to relocate into 1,000 square feet of office space on the west side of the three bays, said Wally Williams, the Port’s Director of Marketing.
By mid-May, the $2.38 million project was about two-thirds complete, with the Port and its contractor, Banlin Construction of Kennewick, aiming to finish up by mid-August to early September, allowing occupancy by a winery tenant in time for this fall’s wine grape harvest and crush.
Among Banlin’s recent projects are the 12,000-square-foot, $1.8 million expansion of the nearby Chukar Cherries facility at 320 Wine Country Road, a new Dutch Brothers coffee outlet, which is being built nearby at 119 Merlot Drive and a three-building winery complex in Kennewick that opened earlier this year.
Thurston Wolfe Winery was the first to sign on for the original phase of Vintners Village, agreeing in 2006 to become part of the then new development. It turned out to be a happy development for the Port after a previously promising prospect had decided to forego the location.
But Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman decided it was the right place for them to expand Thurston Wolfe into a 7,000-square-foot building where they could grow their winery to 6,000 cases.
Once Thurston Wolfe arrived, several other wineries soon moved into nearby buildings. Over the next several years, Vintners Village became a place where visitors can park their cars in one location and walk to 11 tasting rooms.
In 2018, visitors can come and easily spend a long weekend sampling the wine and food of Vintners Village, or by exploring the Prosser area beyond the Village, where at least another dozen wineries operate tasting facilities within a few miles.
The Village is sited ideally for those who want to spend a long weekend or longer. Nearby, are the Seven Gables Pensione Bed & Breakfast, hotels and an RV park, all within easy walking distance. For lunch or dinner, there’s Wine O’Clock restaurant which includes the tasting room for Bunnell Family Cellar, a favorite spot for avid wine buffs to stop for a bite and a breather before heading out to another winery or two.
The fare created by Susan Bunnell and her staff at Wine O’Clock is popular both for lunches and dinners, with Ron Bunnell’s acclaimed wines available by the bottle or the glass. Bunnell specializes in Rhone-style wines at his winery (which he launched in 2004) focusing on Syrah and Grenache. He also makes some lesser-known whites, including Gewürztraminer and Aligoté.
Visitors to the other tasting rooms in the Village can sample a wide array of wines made from grapes that originated in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Serbia and Croatia, with names ranging from Albariño to Zinfandel.
Multiple generations of respected winemakers and grape growers are involved in the Village’s wineries, a reflection of Prosser’s claim as the cradle of the modern Washington wine industry. Not far away on the north side of the Yakima River is Washington State University’s Prosser Research Station, where Walter Clore spent decades working to determine which wine grapes were best suited to Washington and convincing the state’s farmers to plant vines as part of their operations.
Wolfe, who’s been making wine in Washington for more than 40 years, qualifies as one of the state’s longest-tenured winemakers, so it was natural for others to follow his lead in moving into the Village.
His award-winning offerings include both the expected — Cabernet Sauvignon and a superb red blend — and several more unusual varieties, including Albariño, a Lemberger Rosé, Petit Sirah, Primitivo and Zinfandel. Not to be missed is his Touriga Nacional Port, an exquisite dessert wine.
At nearby County Line Winery, Robert Smasne of Smasne Cellars and Sean Tudor of 2dor Wines took over the former Olsen Estates building two years ago.
Smasne, a fourth-generation Yakima Valley native, considered by many as one of Washington’s most skilled winemakers, is in his 20th year of making wine. Tudor and his father in 2013 purchased the famed Otis Vineyards near Grandview, home to the state’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which were planted in 1957.
Airfield Estates built a tasting room that has the look of an airport hangar and many of its wines have been dubbed with aviation-themed names, including Spitfire, Mustang, Hellcat, Dauntless and Aviator. The winery offers a broad array of wine varietals, plus red and white blends and an excellent rosé.
The Gamache brothers, Roger and Bob, owners of Gamache Vintners, also are the fourth generation of a family farming tradition. They planted their first vineyards in 1982 near the White Bluffs overlooking the Columbia River and decided in 2002 to start a winery to showcase the grapes they grow, teaming with Charlie Hoppes, another of Washington’s premier — and busiest — winemakers.
Milbrandt Vineyards offers a broad array of wines made from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley, including an award-winning dry rosé made mostly from Syrah with a dollop of Tempranillo. Its 2014 Clifton Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon recently was a double gold medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle competition, the nation’s largest wine judging. Its Viognier and Chardonnays also are award winners.
Like their neighbors in Vintners Village, the Milbrandt family is a multigenerational farming and grape-growing operation, which planted its first vines in 2005.
Coyote Canyon Winery was started by Mike Andrews 12 years ago, partly to showcase the quality of his family’s 1,125 acres of wine grapes — including 26 separate grape varieties. Most of his grapes are sold to nearly 30 other Northwest wineries, including Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which uses many of Andrews’ Horse Heaven Hills grapes in its Columbia Crest wines, including its prestigious reserve tier wines.
The Andrews family’s roots in the area also reach back four decades of raising crops and cattle, with the first wine grapes planted about 25 years ago. Winemaker Justin Michaud showcases several of the unusual grape varieties grown by Andrews, producing Albariño, sparkling Albariño, Grenache, Mourvedre, Graciano, Tempranillo and a Barbera Rosé.
Like many of his neighbors, Ron Bunnell is a veteran of the Washington wine industry who found a home in Prosser. He joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1999, later becoming head winemaker at Col Solare on Red Mountain, a joint venture between Ste. Michelle and the Antinori family of Northern Italy, which traces its winemaking pedigree back to 1350.
Sharing the Winemakers Loft building with Coyote Canyon are Ginkgo Forest Winery, Martinez & Martinez Winery and McKinley Springs Winery. Both Martinez & Martinez and McKinley Springs belong to families who grow grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA not far from Coyote Canyon’s vineyards.
The Martinez family planted its first grapes there in 1981, starting with Cabernet Sauvignon. Its wines include Viognier, the tasty Mae May Rosé, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon and César, a red blend made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Carménère.
McKinley Springs Winery can trace its agricultural roots back more than 70 years, its grape growing back 37 years and its wine-making operation back 16 years. The grape-growing side of the business now stretches across 2,800 acres — Washington’s largest contiguous grape-growing operation — with most of the fruit sold to other wineries.
Wines available include Chenin Blanc, Viognier, a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot.
Ginkgo Forest Winery is based in the Wahluke Slope American Viticultural Area near Mattawa and opened its Prosser tasting room in July 2017. It offers a delightful Gewürztraminer that captures that grape’s elusive spices and aromatics, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah and late harvest versions of both Gewürztraminer and Syrah.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken Robertson, a retired newsman, has been sipping and writing about Northwest wines for more than 40 years.
Vintners Village Hosts Bottles, Brews & BBQ on Sat., June 9
Among the major summer events held at Vintners Village is Bottles, Brews & BBQ. Scheduled for Saturday, June 9, the event features wineries, breweries, live music and a barbecue competition overseen by the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association.
Those who attend can buy samples from the competition on a first-come, first-serve basis, plus beverages from the array of wineries and breweries attending. In addition, a fleet of food trucks and other vendors are expected to offer their fare during the event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Tickets in advance are $20, plus a $2.03 fee. Or, you can buy a premier access pass for $75, plus a $4.81 fee. Premier access includes a barbecue dinner with local vintners on Friday, June 8, plus a private concert for premier access pass holders.
For more information about the event, visit: www.prosserwinenetwork.com.