KENNEWICK, Wash. — The Columbia Gardens Wine Village now has two brands linked to it, and the men behind Bartholomew Winery and Vino La Monarcha look forward to serving as ambassadors for the Port of Kennewick project near the Columbia River.
Victor Palencia, perhaps the most remarkable success story in the Washington wine industry, said he considered other possibilities for the home of Vino La Monarcha and headquarters for its parent Palencia Wine Co., but he was thrilled to learn that his was among the two wineries selected as the inaugural tenants of the 5.4-acre production facility and tasting room complex a stone’s throw from Clover Island.
“I’m a firm believer in the vision of the Port of Kennewick,” Palencia told Great Northwest Wine. “This will draw people to that part of Kennewick who’d never considered going there before. There’s the walking trail around part of Duffy’s Pond, and I’m really looking forward to the culinary and wine experience that we’ll be a part of. I have a lot of ideas spinning around in my head.”
The Port of Kennewick announced its selections at a Dec. 13 meeting, and both wineries plan to move into their spaces in time for the 2017 harvest. It will mark another step in the revitalization of historic downtown Kennewick and its riverfront area between the two bridges that connect with Pasco.
Bart Fawbush, owner/winemaker for Bartholomew Winery in Seattle, said he’s enthusiastic to move to the Tri-Cities and make wine in downtown Kennewick. The former mortgage broker, who makes his award-winning wines in West Seattle and sells them at the iconic former Rainier brewery building near Interstate 5, didn’t balk at being a part of another downtown renewal effort.
“I’ve had my share of naysayers over the years,” Fawbush said. “I was one of the first ones to open a winery and operate a tasting room on a regular basis in SoDo, and we’ve done well with that. We’ll put in the time and effort to make this a success, too.”
Columbia Gardens Wine Village has been 10 years in the making for the Port of Kennewick, which embarked on a process of acquisitions and demolition that paved the way for this year’s groundbreaking. In the past four years, port representatives have spent hours fielding questions at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual convention, and a handful of wineries have taken a hard look at Columbia Gardens.
“We’ve invested more than $15 million into this part of town for at least a decade,” said port CEO Tim Arntzen. “I know it’s over $15 million because I’m looking down at the $10 million we spent on just the marina. So to Victor and Bart, I would say that we have faced the same thing you are facing. We have people who call us ‘idiots’ and ask us ‘Why are you putting money into a ghetto?’ ”
Phase two, which Arntzen hopes to launch this spring, could result in a third winery — a custom-crush operation — moving into the parcel that’s closer the marina. State funding for that piece comes into play.
“That is a big if,” Arntzen said. “There are several entities involved in releasing the funds for that.”
Bartholomew Winery will occupy the larger space, leasing a building that’s 4,525 square feet with a loft of 600 square feet. Vino La Monarcha’s home will be 3,888 square feet plus a loft. The two winemakers both will use the 3,888-square foot building designed for barrel storage and case goods. Their lease is 65 cents per square foot.
Earlier this fall, Columbia Basin College in Pasco announced plans to create a $10 million culinary school near Duffy’s Pond on land that had been a manufactured home park near resurgent Clover Island as part of the Columbia Drive revitalization.
Last year, a few miles upriver, the city of Richland and Washington State University Tri-Cities opened the $23 million Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center.
Vino La Monarcha ‘ready to spread its wings’
Palencia, 31, grew up in Prosser and began his storied career as an teen apprentice for longtime vintner David Minick at Willow Crest Winery. Before the age of 21, he received a scholarship from famed Leonetti Cellar to attend the Walla Walla Community College wine program. Since then, he’s grown into one of the state’s top winemakers, producing more than 1 million cases for a number of wineries at J&S Crushing in Mattawa.
By the time he was 27, Palencia’s string of gold medals led to Jones of Washington being named 2012 Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine. Last year, the same publication spotlighted Palencia Winery as its 2015 Washington Winery to Watch. This year, Wine Enthusiast included Palencia among its Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers.
Wednesday night, he returned to his home in Richland exhausted after a snowy drive and a long day of bottling some of his own juice at Palencia Winery, his weekend passion in Walla Walla.
“I love Walla Walla, but the drive …” Palencia sighed.
Columbia Gardens will become the headquarters for Palencia Wine Co., as well as the production facility and tasting room for Vino La Monarcha, his flagship 6,000-case brand. His reserve tier is Palencia Winery, a 2,500-case brand, and he plans to continue operating a tasting room and small vinification facility for that label in Walla Walla. There also was Palencia Wine Bar on First Avenue, but he closed it last summer after a year.
“This will give me a hub, a center of operations, and a full-time dedicated home for Vino La Monarcha,” Palencia said. “It’s time for it to spread its wings and fly.”
He’d prefer to find a dual purpose home for Palencia Winery near the Walla Walla Regional Airport complex. His deadline to leave the Port of Walla Walla winery incubator campus is still three years off, however Palencia has set a goal to move into his own facility within two years.
“I’ll still make some smaller-production wines in Walla Walla,” he said. “I love being close to the action and being a part of what’s going on in Walla Walla, and I’m blessed that those reserves and higher tiers sell out quickly there.”
Palencia’s fans need not worry. Vino La Monarcha wines will be available to wine club members at Palencia Winery in Walla Walla, and vice versa. Between the two brands, total case production could reach beyond 9,000 cases in 2017.
“There’s a lot of potential for growth in the Vino La Monarcha brand,” he said.
Moving his Vino La Monarcha production to Kennewick should also help generate more interest among Latinos living in the Tri-Cities.
“One of the things I love about the Latino community is the loyalty,” he said. “Once you capture a fan base with them, they are pretty darn loyal, and I’m also interested in younger, millennial crowd, which I relate to a lot. I want to provide a learning experience, and Vino La Monarcha can be a gateway for wine itself. Give it a try. Explore something new.”
Palencia has grand plans for the Columbia Gardens location to promote not only Vino La Monarcha but also downtown Kennewick.
“I want that brand to be the ambassador for the hub, and eventually, people will want to see where the stuff is made and where it’s from,” he said.
He’s also fascinated by the possibilities of celebrating festivals such as Day of the Dead — the Mexican holiday in early November that coincides with the return of monarch butterflies to Michoacán, Palencia’s home state in Mexico.
“A lot of Latinos already are so involved with the industry by working in the vineyards, but they also are becoming more involved in winery operations and tasting rooms,” he said. “I’m hoping to bridge the gap a little bit.”
The news he received Wednesday morning means Palencia is looking forward to 2017 with more anticipation than ever.
“I want to showcase the impact of agriculture and role the beautiful Latino culture has in this community,” he said. “I’m living proof that with the right people to guide you and the dedication that the American dream can come true.”
From SoDo to downtown Kennewick
When Fawbush first began learning about the Washington wine industry, he figured it would be impossible to enter it without living in the Columbia Valley since that’s where nearly all of the grapes are grown. He quickly saw what was happening in Woodinville and realized that he could make critically acclaimed wine while living in the city and keeping a day job. That began in 2007.
“My dream was always to move to the other side of the state,” he said. “We’ve built a nice brand now. We’re selling out, and we want to grow more.”
Bartholomew will produce 2,000 cases from the 2016 vintage. The move to Columbia Gardens will double his working space, allowing him to grow to 2,500 cases with the 2017 harvest. He ships to more than 30 states.
In addition to pouring and selling his wines in Kennewick, Fawbush, 43, plans to continue operating his tasting room at the old Rainier building. Ultimately, he expects his brand to hit 3,000 cases while he deepens his young relationship as the winemaker for new Aluel Cellars on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
“The idea is to be up and running by harvest,” Fawbush said. “We’re hoping to get moved in in July.”
He’s also got his sights set on owning a vineyard near the Tri-Cities, where he and his wife, Chona, plan to live after their son finishes up the eighth grade next spring. Fawbush said he’s looking forward to seeing a lot more of the sun and fewer cars on the road.
“We’re just super, super excited and looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve been in traffic all day. I just went to the UPS Store, and it took forever.”
The move to the Tri-Cities also puts Fawbush three hours closer to Storm and Stephanie Hodge, friends from Seattle who purchased Parma Ridge Winery in Idaho’s Snake River Valley in 2014.
Mutual admiration society
Fawbush works with mainstream varieties as well as unusual grapes as Aligoté, Carménère, Petit Verdot and Tannat. He makes a Port-style using Souzão. Vineyard sources include Painted Hills in the Yakima Valley and Lawrence Vineyard in the Frenchman Hills near Othello.
“I’m getting a neighbor who is an awesome winemaker and makes a ton of wine, and I think the two of us together will make for some really good press,” Fawbush said. “I’m a big fan of his Albariño and that rosé he makes from Pinot Noir, but we make wines that will be different from each other.”
Palencia said, “I think we’re going to complement each other pretty well. We both bring some differences in our portfolios.”
And there’s no doubt in Palencia’s mind that Fawbush will develop a following in downtown Kennewick, pointing to the time spent building up Bartholomew in Seattle’s industrial SoDo neighborhood south of downtown.
“People like the characters and the adventure in SoDo,” Palencia said. “And there’s culture in that part of Kennewick that needs to be embraced. It just needs a little bit of a push.”
Long range vision for Columbia Gardens
If Kennewick’s stretch of Columbia Drive turned into something akin to the Rainey Street Historic District — an older neighborhood of Austin, Texas, near the Colorado River — that would please Arntzen.
“We’ve seen the vision, and great things are happening,” Arntzen said from his Port of Kennewick office on Clover Island. “We really enjoy it when people tell us, ‘That will never work,’ and then some of those same people will later come to the groundbreakings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.”
An unexpected but welcomed layer to the project, Arntzen said, is a proposed Latino heritage mural on the winery building. The mural will be painted on large fiberglass panels with installation targeted around the time of harvest.
“Members of the Latino community reached out to us and want to be involved,” Arntzen said. “A lot of times we see things happen organically that are not part of the master plan. They just build up around it.”
Ironically, Palencia recently met some members of the group spearheading the mural project.
“I’m super stoked about that,” Palencia said. “I didn’t say a word about my application, but when they find out, it’s going to make a lot of people smile. It’s as if it was meant to be.”
Palencia wants to help make Columbia Gardens a lively, friendly and colorful wine destination full of culture. Depending upon the event, he and his fianceé, Paula Ramirez, can see tapas or taco trucks being available.
“There are a lot of positive aspects in that part of the community,” he said. “It’s near the water, which you really can’t get near to anymore, and that’s old town Kennewick. I see a renaissance happening with boutique restaurants and tapas-style bars.”
At the same time, the blue collar, gritty feel surrounding Columbia Gardens is something that should be embraced, Arntzen said.
“Hopefully, this part of town never changes,” he said. “If it were to change, then it will look like just another place by the mall.”
Fawbush seems almost amused by what some perceive as obstacles to overcome.
“I’ve had people say, ‘That’s a porn shop area,’ and there’s Zip’s (Drive-In) across the street,” Fawbush said. “That’s fine. As long as you make a good product and create a nice experience for people, they are going to come back.
“Besides, we’re near a river and a yacht club, which is next to restaurant and a bakery,” he added. “We’re going to make this a kick-butt winery, and we’ll get enough people through the doors.”
Ultimately, Arntzen said a case could be made for Palencia and Fawbush being an ideal pairing.
“There were others that were interested, but Palencia and Bartholomew filled out all the paperwork and really committed to the project,” Arntzen said. “In my opinion, this has worked out for the best, and we’re thrilled to have these guys in there.”
Arntzen recalled visiting Bartholomew Winery with a friend about six years ago. They brought a 12-year-old boy who was charmed by the old brewery building, and Fawbush’s engaging personality and customer service made a good impression on his future landlord.
“Funny how our paths have crossed,” Arntzen said.