BENTON CITY, Wash. – State and local officials marked the start of grape planting Friday at a new vineyard on Washington state trust land that promises to provide extra funding for the state’s schools.
A 404-acre development in central Washington’s lower Yakima Valley is aimed at diversifying assets of the trust that provides millions of dollars in non-tax revenue to Washington schools.
Most school trust lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources are in forestry, though there is some agricultural land.
Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark estimates the vineyard’s value will be 10 times that of a forest once it enters full production.
“Each crop for forestry takes 60 years. Once the grapes are up and established, there will be a crop every year,” Goldmark said at Friday’s ceremony to celebrate the start of planting. “Because it’s such high-value agricultural land, it’s a significant investment.”
The vineyard sits on the side of Red Mountain, a dusty hill once covered in sagebrush that has been increasingly planted in wine grapes in recent years. The federal government recognized it as the state’s fifth wine appellation, or grape-growing region, in 2001 for its unique soil and climate.
Dozens of wineries have opened there as well, including the $6 million Col Solare winery that was a partnership of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the largest wine company in the Northwest, and Europe’s famed Antinori family. The opening marked the most significant international investment in Washington’s booming wine industry.
Red Mountain is known for its red wines: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah and malbec.
Paul Keltinick and Dick Shaw of Vintage Partners LLC, which leased the ground, plan to plant almost entirely cabernet sauvignon grapes. The group already has contracts with Col Solare for the grapes and aims to build a winery.
Once the vineyard is in full production, the lease will pay about $375,000 per year to the state for 50 years.
Shaw said he was pleased with the lease, and has high hopes for the site.
“It’s been a long time in the running and it’s now coming to fruition,” he said.
Jim Holmes, an area grower who planted some of the first grapes on Red Mountain in 1975, now farms 160 acres at his vineyard down the road. Thirteen varieties of wine grapes grow there.
“We had no vision this would occur,” he said, waving to the acres of vineyards on the sweeping hillside. “We just hoped maybe what we were doing was adequate, and adequate means someone is buying the grapes. Now this area is world famous.”