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Monday, Sep. 08, 2008

Brothers bank on wine business in Prosser

PROSSER, Wash. -- Another grape-growing family has made the transition to winery owner and will homestead at the Port of Benton's Vintner's Village.

Fourth-generation farming brothers Bob and Roger Gamache are buying the final lot at Vintner's Village from the port and hope to have the Gamache Vintner's tasting room open for spring barrel tasting.

The Gamache brothers grew up in a farming family, first growing hops in Moxee before their family moved to Toppenish.

In 1982, the brothers bought land in Basin City -- more than 200 acres at the east end of White Bluffs. They planted vineyards, hops, apples and stone fruit.

Over the years, they have phased out the hops and apples, replacing the crops with more vineyards.

"In the mid-1990s we got heavier into the grapes," said Bob Gamache.

Now about 185 acres are planted in vineyards -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Roussanne, Malbec, Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

For decades the brothers have sold grapes to wineries that have produced some of the most outstanding wines in the state, including Chateau Ste. Michelle.

But the brothers really were interested in taking their vision from vineyard to the bottle. They hired Charlie Hoppes as their consulting winemaker and produced their first vintage in 2002.

"You really do grow wine in the vineyards -- creating the character in the grapes," said Roger Gamache.

The Gamache brothers specialize in estate-grown wines that are 100 percent varietal and they have collected medals for nearly every vintage bottled.

The only nonvarietal the brothers make is their red blend, Boulder Red.

In 2004, the brothers opened a tasting room on Dallas Road but they always had their sights set on building a tasting room in Prosser or at Red Mountain. The brothers bought Red Mountain land several years ago in hopes of planting a vineyard and adding the grapes to their portfolio.

But the winery will be in Prosser and the brothers will be surrounded by other well-known grape growers turned winery owners -- Olsen Estates (Dick and Larry Olsen and their sons), Airfield Estates (Mike Miller and his family), Willow Crest (Dave Minick) and Milbrandt Vineyards Winery (Butch and Jerry Milbrandt).

The new tasting room will be about 3,500 square feet, adjacent to the Winemaker's Loft, at the end of the cul-de-sac where the Milbrandt Vineyards Winery recently opened its tasting room.

"This is a wonderful location and working with the Port of Benton has been great," Bob Gamache said.

The port sold the land to the Gamache brothers for $50,000 an acre. Bob Gamache said the architectural plans still are being developed, so they are unsure of how much the project will cost.

The Gamache brothers picked up the final original lot, about 1.5 acres, that the port had available in Vintner's Village.

The port is finalizing a deal to purchase 17 acres adjacent to the property so it can expand the popular wine village, but it's unlikely any new development will occur at the site until 2009, said Scott Keller, the port's executive director.