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Originally published Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 1:48 PM

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Wash. wine-growing area expects more growth

Ed Shaw came to Red Mountain in the 1990s, when "there were not nearly the vineyards and hardly any wineries."

Tri-City Herald

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KENNEWICK, Wash. —

Ed Shaw came to Red Mountain in the 1990s, when "there were not nearly the vineyards and hardly any wineries."

Times have changed.

Red Mountain today is home to an internationally-known appellation with a growing number of wineries and hundreds of acres of vines. Grapes grown on the mountain fetch three times the state average.

Further growth on the ridge between West Richland and Benton City is inevitable.

"It's going to happen," said Shaw, who has Portrait Cellars and E & E Shaw Vineyards on Red Mountain. "We just want it to happen in a responsible way that doesn't destroy what people come here to see."

He and a group of Red Mountain stakeholders - including Benton County officials, winery and vineyard operators, landowners and local agencies - have been working since the mid-2000s on a plan to guide that future development.

Benton County commissioners last week approved the Red Mountain AVA Master Site Plan in a unanimous vote. It includes a vision for the area, guiding principles, recommendations and strategies.

It will become part of the county's comprehensive plan.

"We negotiated something that really fit the aspirations of the community," said Jim Holmes, owner of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and a Red Mountain pioneer.

The work isn't done. County planning staff will develop ordinances to implement ideas laid out in the plan. One will establish a new zoning district for about two-thirds of the 5,400 acres included in the plan; it will be similar to the land's existing agriculture zoning, with some changes to allow more viticulture-related uses.

A master-planned resort ordinance also will enable a wine village to one day be built.

The plan covers 5,400 acres on the south-facing slope of Red Mountain, including the entire Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, or AVA - an appellation approved in 2001.

Like Shaw, Holmes remembers what the mountain was like before then. Long before. He planted the mountain's first vines in 1975 with John Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Winery.

Back then, Red Mountain was the "middle of nowhere," Holmes said. "As time went on, the grapes produced -- people began to understand they were really good grapes."

Today, there are 16 wineries operating or on the way, and about 1,400 acres in vineyard.

An irrigation project in the works will allow more wine grapes to be planted. The Kennewick Irrigation District plans to bring water from the Yakima River to 1,785 acres, almost entirely within the AVA. Some landowners initiated the formation of a local improvement district to pay for the project.

A road project that also could be on the horizon would improve access to the area. The Red Mountain interchange project involves building a roundabout at the Benton City exit off Interstate 82 and a new interchange connecting West Richland and the Red Mountain area to the highway.

Proponents say it would stimulate economic development and tourism. Funding was included in a proposed state transportation package unveiled in February, though lawmakers as of yet haven't voted on the bill.

The Red Mountain AVA Master Site Plan anticipates a growing number of visitors to the area. It envisions the AVA becoming a " `viticultural park' that provides visitors with a wide range of recreation and interpretive experiences that complement the vineyard and winery related experiences."

It talks of a wine village with eateries, shops and other amenities, of a network of trails and "a sea of vineyards." Visitors to Red Mountain "will be immersed in the vineyards," able to "walk with their families along interpretive paths that describe how grapes are grown and how globally competitive wines are made."

They can also view the remnants of the Ice Age Floods that shaped Red Mountain and created the soils and striking topography that define the place," the plan says.

Shaw, president of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance, said emphasizing the vineyards was important to those creating the plan.

"That's very important to us to have that ag-land feel - the sea of vines," he said.

Shaw said he's elated by county commissioners' approval. "It's a big step," he said. "It's been a very good project."

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