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Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Wine facility near Red Mountain expands

A major California wine company soon will begin barrel storage and bottling operations at Andy and Bill Den Hoed's West Richland facility behind Washington's Red Mountain.

The 27,500-square-foot winery, constructed in 2007 on the 12 acres leased by the brothers from the Port of Kennewick, already houses Pacific Rim Wine Estates, another major California wine company, noted for the variety of Rieslings it produces. The Den Hoeds grow the grapes for Pacific Rim.

The ongoing construction project will add about 25,000 square feet to the winery that will be leased to Ascentia Wine Estates, said Paul Ash, spokesman for Red Mountain Wine Estates owned by the Den Hoeds. The expansion is part of the original plan for the building, he said.

"The expansion completes the single story building," said Delton Bonds, project manager for Sunnyside-based Mountain States Construction Co., which designed and constructed the building and now is working on expanding it.

The project, which costs more than $1.6 million, is expected to end Dec. 1, and Ascentia, which owns eight brands including Covey Run and Columbia Winery, plans to move into the facility on Keene Road near the intersection of Van Giesen Street by year end.

Ascentia was formed in June 2008, said Tony Lombardi, public relations director for the company.

Ascentia makes about 750,000 cases of wine annually. The company also owns about 650 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County, Calif., Lombardi said.

Ascentia will store up to 6,500 barrels of wine sold under Covey Run and Columbia Winery labels at the facility. The grapes come from several different vineyards, mostly in the Columbia Valley, said Tim Hightower, director of operations for Ascentia. "We'll be closer to the grapes," he said.

The company also plans to bottle more than 300,000 cases of wine at Pacific Rim, he said. They will include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling and gewrztraminer, he said.

Pacific Rim produces about 160,000 wine cases annually, but its stainless steel storage tanks at West Richland can handle about 300,000 cases a year, said Nicolas Quille, general manager and winemaker for Pacific Rim. Also, the winery's bottling line can handle up to 750,000 cases a year. There's a lot of excess capacity other big wine companies can use for economies of scale, Quille said.

Also, the West Richland facility has a sewer system to handle the needs of larger facilities, the weighing scale can handle larger trucks and the Tri-City area offers a large pool of potential employees, Quille said.

Ascentia's arrival in West Richland will help to further develop the wine industry in the area, he said. Wineries tend to do well in clusters, Quillé said.

At some point in time, Pacific Rim would like to have a tasting room near its production facility, Quillé said. It's liking "having a face" that consumers can relate to, and "have an experience with your brands," he said.

The building expansion also is helping the Den Hoeds deliver on a promise they made to the port of bringing two more wineries to the site within seven years, said Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director.

"This is exactly what we anticipated." Getting a quality player like Ascentia will further help enhance West Richland's reputation as a potential epicenter of the wine industry, Arntzen said.

The port recently sold an acre of land in the vicinity for a craft distillery, to be constructed and operated by Joel Tefft, who formerly owned a winery in the Yakima Valley, and Becky Runyan, he said.

The port is in talks with another winery for a one-acre parcel, Arntzen said.

"People are taking note of expansion," said Dale Jackson, West Richland mayor who knew about the deal in works. The expansion means more revenue for the city, and a potential job stimulus, he said. Also, any growth in wine-related business in West Richland will help attract other businesses, Jackson said.