Our Voice: West Richland's new UGA helps wine industry grow

We've waited a long time for the Tri-Cities area to get its due recognition from the wine world.

Sure, a handful of the state's first wineries were started here decades ago and we have pioneers of the industry to call our own. We know our wines are great, but convincing others of that has been a long journey.

But when it comes to worldwide recognition as a producer of top-notch wines or even as a destination for those all-important tourism dollars, we've watched folks flock to Walla Walla and even the Yakima Valley instead.

One teeny-tiny AVA is already changing that. Red Mountain has achieved new levels of respect and legitimacy for our region.

Californians, Canadians and Italians are investing in land there, and brining a lot of attention with them. Our local folks have long known that great grapes are born and raised on Red Mountain, and have been making amazing wines from the fruit for years.

And the news just keeps getting better.

Benton County Commissioners recently gave initial approval to add 94 acres to West Richland's urban growth area.

It's a critical 94 acres, the home of the former Tri-City Raceway and a gateway to Red Mountain.

The Port of Kennewick owns the land and has dreams of a development to support the industrial side of the wine industry with production facilities, bonded wine warehouses and barrel storage buildings.

Commissioners are expected to finalize their decision Sept. 30. "We all have a stake in this game. What we can do ... is do the best we can to help facilitate these kind of opportunities," said Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver.

With its proximity to Red Mountain and a planned Interstate 82 interchange, the area is ripe for development.

West Richland is building a wine effluent treatment plant near the property, and city officials have hopes that this will spur others to invest in the area. They envision tasting rooms and a hotel in the area, artisan food shops and other businesses complimentary to the wine industry.

We can see the vision. Add in the hiking trails that are proposed and some signature wine events like Revelry on Red Mountain and the upcoming Red Mountain Block Party and we well on our way to becoming a major destination for wine lovers.

But we're missing pieces of the puzzle that will make it work like quaint restaurants and lodging in proximity to the mountain. The approval of the UGA is a significant step in the right direction, clearing the way for businesses that support the production and retail sides of the industry.

It's been a long journey to this point -- with a UGA expansion rejected by the state in the same area five years ago -- but we're on the cusp of a new era for our region and the development of Red Mountain plays a significant role in its success.