The Port of Benton’s Vintner’s Village is nearly filled to capacity after just a few years. The development is home to 11 wineries and the port plans to expand the 32-acre village, adding nearly 20 acres to the south for further wine industry growth.
Vintner’s Village, a cluster of 11 wineries in Prosser, Washington, may only be a few years old, but it’s already considered a success and is set for expansion.
"We started this about five years ago, and we’re already down to having just one lot, and that one [recently] sold," said Scott Keller, executive director of the Port of Benton, Richland, Washington, which developed the village.
Keller said the development has far exceeded expectations. When the port bought the $175,000, 32-acre property that now makes up Vintner’s Village, it was with the idea that the site would become an industrial park. The port originally hoped to attract businesses that would complement the area’s growing wine industry. It thought barrel manufacturers and cork makers would fill the property, with the entire development being anchored by a 200,000-square-foot bonded wine warehouse.
When the port started the Vintner’s Village project, it had been in talks with a bonded warehouse company that was planning to build in Prosser, Keller said. The company ended up pulling out and leaving the port with a lot of land, $1 million in infrastructure, and no major tenants.
But that wasn’t the case for long. A realtor soon contacted Keller, asking if the port would be interested in having a nursery take over ten acres of the property. Without much hesitation, Keller and the port approved the sale, and Yellow Rose Nursery started building on the east side of the 32-acre parcel.
Keller soon afterwards talked to Dave Minick, owner of Willow Crest Winery, and Wade Wolfe, who owns Thurston Wolfe Winery with his wife, Becky Yeaman. Minick was the first wine-based business to decide to move to the port property with Wolfe and Yeaman following quickly behind.
When people saw those two wineries breaking ground, "…it went wacko," Keller said.
Minick said when he decided to buy the Vintner’s Village property he didn’t anticipate the development would grow into what it is today. He was simply looking for a place to store his wines, so his first construction project on the port property was a warehouse. Just a few months after finishing the storage facility, Minick quickly got to work on building a tasting room, which he opened in the summer of 2006.
Minick said he was surprised how quickly the development started filling up. "People definitely started grasping a hold of [the concept] so quickly," he said.
It wasn’t long after he started building his storage facility that Wolfe started construction on the Thurston Wolfe building next door, and next door to that the Winemaker’s Loft was going up.
At the same time as the port was looking for tenants, Wolfe and Yeaman were looking for a new location for their Thurston Wolfe tasting room. Wolfe said they decided to build in Vintner’s Village because of its freeway visibility and because he knew that other wineries were coming.
When he started construction, he said he knew not only that Minick and the Winemaker’s Loft were locating there, but also that Airfield Estates and Olsen Estates had committed to joining the fray.
"We knew people were coming," he said.
Thurston Wolfe opened its tasting room in early 2006, and within a year, all of the lots except for one were accounted for, Wolfe said. He’s enjoyed being located at Vintner’s Village because of the sense of community between the various wineries located there. He said they are in the process of forming a winery-owner association and have been working to coordinate their various activities.
The development of property happened so fast that it wasn’t a conscious decision by the port to limit the occupants of the Vintner’s Village to just wineries.
"It happened so quickly we didn’t have to worry about anyone else," Keller said.
Clustering groups of wineries into villages is a relatively new phenomenon in Washington State, where there are only a handful of similar developments, said Ryan Pennington, spokesperson for the Washington Wine Commission.
"It certainly captures the attention of the consumer in ways a stand-alone winery might not," Pennington said. "If you put a number of [wineries] together, they all win."
Pennington said Prosser is one of the fastest growing regions for wineries in the state. And that is precisely why Jerry Milbrandt, and his brother, Butch, decided to build their tasting room in Vintner’s Village. Milbrandt Vineyards is the latest addition to the development, celebrating its grand opening in May.
Milbrandt Vineyards grows its nearly 1,600 acres of wine grapes in the Mattawa area, with vineyards in the Wahluke Slope and Columbia Valley appellations. Jerry Milbrandt said when they were deciding where to build their tasting room they looked at places throughout the state, from Woodinville to Leavenworth to Walla Walla. But after talking to Wolfe and Minick, it became clear that Prosser was where they had to be.
Jerry Milbrandt said Vintner’s Village was one of the only places they looked at that already had high-volume traffic and was likely going to continue to grow. So, in October 2007, they started construction on their tasting room.
Jerry said they plan on making their Vintner’s Village facility the public face of Milbrandt Vineyards, a brand they are starting to market nationally. "We really like the community aspect of it. We think Vintner’s Village has a huge future."
Keller said the port has big plans for the village. It recently spent $1.1 million to acquire nearly 20 acres of property just south of the existing development as a site for additional wineries as well as some businesses that will complement the existing tasting rooms. He is already in talks with a cheesemaker who is interested in moving to Prosser, and there’s likely to be a bed and breakfast inn included in the expansion.
Keller said the port hopes to start extending infrastructure to the new land next spring, with the first ten acres of the property likely to be ready for sale by next summer.