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ARCHIVE - Please Note: This story was published in 2006

Prosser, Washington...
Emerging hub for state's wine industry and tourism
by Susan R. O'Hara, Wines Northwest
June 29, 2006

       Five years ago, small-town Prosser, Washington in the lower Yakima Valley started to buzz.  New wineries and vineyards were going in faster than ever before. From just five wineries operating in 2000 to the current 17 (26 by 2007), Prosser-area wine country has become attractive to more than a few members of the wine industry, wine-related businesses and countless wine tourists. Next year, the number of wine producers operating in the Prosser area of Washington State will exceed five times that of just five years ago! 

       What explains this fast-track to wine country prominence?
 


THE BACKGROUND             THE DETAILS   

AN ACCIDENTAL WINE VILLAGE IN THE MAKING
 


THE BACKGROUND

        If you have followed the growth Prosser's wine country, you have probably noticed what amounts to a paradigm shift in its profile as a wine region.  Washington's eastside-dominated wine industry is beginning to rotate around the lower-Yakima-Valley town of Prosser.  The emerging hub was not written into any overarching industry plan, but as the industry goes, so goes wine tourism.

       Before Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates (today's Ste Michelle Wine Estates) announced it would build a large new winery in Prosser for its Snoqualmie Vineyards, there were just five wineries to attract wine enthusiasts. Even so, Prosser was included regularly in wine-tour plans through the Yakima Valley and Red Mountain appellations. 

       The 2002 announcement that Snoqualmie Vineyards would join the small group of Prosser-area wineries was good news for wine-country tourists, but it was news of seismic proportions for members of the Northwest wine industry and those considering entering it.  Answers to the "why Prosser" question were supplied by news stories in mainstream and industry publications, and the area gained not only increased respect from the trade, but serious consideration from prospective businesses researching locations for new wine-related businesses.

       Locally, the Snoqualmie Vineyards announcement sent waves of excitement, and a little anxiety, through city and county government.  (Prosser is the county seat of Benton County.)  The handwriting was appearing on their collective walls, and stepped-up strategic planning was clearly in order.  New goals and local-government programs and projects focused on the subject of wine tourism and economic development needs. The potential for the area to become a hub for wine tourism was obvious enough to attract public and private grant dollars for a wide variety of related local projects.

       The rate of new-business licensing began to accelerate a few years ago, and has shown no sign of slowing.  Dozens of new licenses have been issued by the City recently, with a large portion being for wine-related businesses.  Economic Development has become a serious subject in Benton County (third-fastest-growing county in the state) and public agencies -- the County, the City and the Port District -- joined hands to provide assistance to prospective businesses and and to work together to enhance the wine-tourism atmosphere of the area.  No doubt these efforts have helped turn the Prosser area into an epicenter of Washington's wine industry and a magnet for wine tourists, causing prospective businesses to take a close look at Prosser. 

       More than a few wine-industry members have been doing just that... and the closer they look, the more the Prosser area looks like a smart choice for locating new or expanded businesses.  Winemakers recognize the area as central to Eastern Washington growing areas, areas that are connected by major highways leading beyond their own area to the growing areas of Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, the Walla Walla Valley and other parts of the vast Columbia Valley appellation.  Ease of premium grape sourcing and wine shipping is increasingly essential to winemaking professionals. 

        A kind of momentum has been building for years in Prosser-area wine country, but the Snoqualmie Vineyards winery announcement threw it into high gear.  Since that announcement, more than a dozenThumbnail map-link for large map of Prosser-area wineries locations new wineries have chosen this area for their winemaking facilities, bringing today's total to almost 26... almost, because construction is not yet complete on the new Desert Wind destination winery, The Winemaker's Loft (which will house seven wineries), Olsen Estates winery and Milbrandt Vineyards, all scheduled to open later this year or in the spring of 2007.  City leaders predict as much as $20 million in new construction projects, more than double 2005's total of $8.2 million, according to City Administrator Fred Stouder.


 


THE DETAILS

Desert Wind's destination winery nears completion
Alexandria Nicole reinvents itself in Prosser Wine & Food Park
An Accidental Wine Village at the North Prosser Business Park
Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center
Prosser Wine Tasting Opportunities
Prosser Area Touring Tips
 


DESERT WIND - $3.5 MILLION PROSSER WINERY
... a destination winery in the making

       Upon completion later this year, Desert Wind must be placed in the category of destination wineries.  The 34,500-square-foot, Santa Fe-style building will include a large tasting room (4,755 square feet ), a winemaking facility (3,600 square feet of barrels and tanks), a banquet room (3,265 square feet) adjacent to a commercial kitchen designed to accommodate multiple functions from banquet services to intimate wine dinners, two outdoor patios overlooking the Yakima River and totaling 6,000 square feet, and four guest rooms for overnight visitors, including a 670-square-foot bridal suite, three guest suites ranging from 427 to 576 square feet and a private two-bedroom winery suite.

       Plans have been in the works for about five years to find the correct location and create this facility. After about a year of scouring the Woodinville area for an appropriate site, the Fries & Jenkins families (also owners of Oregon's Duck Pond Cellars) turned to Prosser and began the search for what is now their new production facility and soon will be Desert Wind Winery. The site enjoys great access from Highway 82, making easy the transportation of grapes grown at the Fries' Desert Wind Vineyard on nearby Wahluke Slope north of Prosser. 

         Grapes grown on the family's 540-acre Wahluke-Slope vineyard already have proven their high quality in many a Desert Wind wine produced since the mid 90s.  The first vintage crushed at the new Desert Wind production facility in Prosser was 2004.  The Fries and Jenkins families hope to open their destination winery and tasting room Presidents Day Weekend 2007.

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From Seattle, Portland or Spokane, Prosser is about a three-hour drive.  Each of those drives is as dramatically scenic as the next, with connecting roads passing either over the Cascade Mountains or through them at the near-sea-level Columbia River Gorge, or down from the Palouse.


ALEXANDRIA NICOLE RELOCATES, REMODELS AND REITERATES

       When Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman moved Thurston Wolfe into their new winery building in the North Prosser Business Park, Alexandria Nicole Cellar's tasting room moved into Thurston Wolfe's former location in the Prosser Food and Wine Park.  In addition its new tasting room, Alexandria Nicole Cellars combined the former Thurston Wolfe space with the adjoining space to make room for serving food pairings offered with its wines. 

       In close proximity to Hogue Cellars, Cowan Vineyard and Kestrel Vintners, wine country travelers will find Alexandria Nicole Cellar's tasting room open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and its small-plate food pairings are available Thursday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Food pairing selections include:
 

  • Assortment of Cheese Platters
  • Bacon Wrapped Scallops with Mango Salsa
  • Marinated Olives
  • House Green Salad
  • Portobello Mushroom
  • Spanakopita with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
  • Chocolate Fondue
  • Alternating Special Selections

        In addition to its new Wine and Food Park tasting room, you can taste Alexandria Nicole wines at its winery located on Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard in the nearby Horse Heaven Hills appellation, just south of Prosser.  Tastings are offered all summer Thursday through Saturday 11a.m. - 5 p.m.  You can even schedule an appointment to tour of the beautiful estate vineyard by calling 509-832-3497.

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WALTER CLORE WINE AND CULINARY CENTER
...a visitor center to honor Washington wines and their pioneer

       The fast-growing wine-tourism market will increase again, no doubt, with the completion of yet another important project in Prosser... the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.  Washington wine historians have written for years about Prosser as the birthplace of the State's wine industry; it has been -- and is today -- pivotal to the Washington wine industry. 

       The center is named after the late Walter Clore, a Washington State University professor who began viticultural research in 1934 (at WSU's irrigated agricultural research center - largest in the country and located in Prosser).  Clore was able to convince growers in the late ‘60’s and early 70’s that vinifera wine grapes could be grown successfully.  By the time he retired in 1976, his work blossomed to include more than 312 varieties.  Clore's work provided Washington’s wine grape industry with essential information about which varietals would, or would not, thrive in Eastern Washington.  Dr. Clore was a resident of Prosser.

       Showcasing the birthplace of Washington's wine industry, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center (scheduled to open in July 2007) will educate visitors about Washington's viticulture, enology and culinary practices.


       The
Center will be located on 22 acres adjacent to the Yakima River in the city of Prosser.  In respect for its eastern Washington agricultural surroundings and its riverfront location, the 17,537-square-foot facility will incorporate the principles of sustainable design, complemented by its surrounding demonstration vineyard and gardens.  It will include:

  • an expansive lobby and information area for welcoming visitors and holding events/functions;

  • interactive and engaging historical and educational exhibition gallery;

  • state of the art, professionally outfitted demonstration kitchen with classroom space for training, teaching and meetings;

  • working vineyards and gardens, for self-guided and led tours;

  • food lounge with tapas menu and a Washington wines list;

  • wine bar/tasting lounge for presentation of Washington wines;

  • retail shop for visitors to make purchases of wine and culinary-related gifts;

  • industry and administrative resource center/office space;

  • demonstration vineyard surrounded by flower and herb gardens


An Accidental Wine Village at the North Prosser Business Park

Prosser Area Wine Country Map with Winery Locations & Hours

MORE ABOUT YAKIMA VALLEY WINE COUNTRY
 


Wine news & Reviews - Table of Contents
 


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