Squeezing the Juice out of Progress
Part rant, part plea, part observation, this is the story of a region on the verge of growth. Some live in fear of the invasion of the white man like Marcus Whitman and the Cayuse Indians. Others are clinging to ideals that strangle progress and still others are embracing the potential of the region with open arms.
Spokane, just 3 hours north of Walla Walla and 2 hours from the heart of Columbia Valley is poised to become a wine tasting destination. Currently with 17 wineries to serve the population base of 500,000 in Spokane County (and another 150,000 in North Idaho’s Kootenai County), residents tend to leave town to visit “wine country” rather than experience the wine created in its own back yard. Spokane is home to three “large” wineries that boast production greater than 15,000 cases. The remaining wineries range in size from 500 cases to 5000 cases and often get lost in the glow of the mansion on the hill. Some of these wineries are consistently receiving high praise from the magazine elite and are adorned with precious medals won in the battle of competition.
Recently, news trickled down the grape vine of a new winery opening in North Spokane’s Greenbluff district. This farming community is always bustling with activity as residents pack into their soccer vans and four wheel urban assault vehicles to pick fresh fruit. Currently Townshend Cellars (20,000 cases) and Trezzi Farms (500 cases) hold down the grape canopy. A third winery in the district would certainly boost appeal and would add to the “day trip” destination.
Terranova Cellars, producing wine in Walla Walla but without a retail tasting room, chose glorious Spokane to unveil its passions to the world. Brent Bendick became the assistant wine maker for Isenhower Cellars in Walla Walla in 2004. Since that time, he’s learned the art and science of wine making. Concurrently, his first Newfoundland, Lalique, found him. Brent discovered a way to combine so many things that are important to him and start his own winery and give back to those who need it, not the least of which are the Newfoundland in the rescue program. With Brent’s wife Heidi earning her MBA from Gonzaga University, a natural Spokane connection existed.
Sadly, Terranova will not be opening in Greenbluff as expected. The Barbera, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Cabernet, and Rose will not be experienced because of county politics, Greenbluff association disapproval and other facility troubles. Brent and Heidi are sent back to the barrel room to contemplate their next moves. While not solely to blame for the decision, I do still say shame on Greenbluff for voicing their concern over selling wine that is not “grown or produced” in Greenbluff. Yes, Trezzi makes the valiant effort to grow grapes and produce a respectable Barbera but Townshend Cellars has moved production off site (with the exception of the occasional bottling and special barrels). Yes, Greenbluff, your precious T3 is grown, produced and bottled just north of Kennewick, WA. All this from a region that trucks in pumpkins to give the illusion of picking them during harvest.
Rumblings of horse drawn wagons have been heard as wineries from Walla Walla, Prosser, Yakima and further west look to Spokane for the next frontier. With the great land rush in Woodinville moving ahead, wineries are seeing the benefit of an extended tasting room. It’s easier to take your wine to the people than to expect and wait for them to come to you. Washington wineries are allowed two off site tasting rooms. With Seattle and Spokane being the two main population hubs, the next frontier logically seems to be Spokane.
Is this bad for the region? Should we fear the invasion of the outsiders? In this writer’s opinion, the answer is an emphatic NO. What would have happened if Chateau St. Michelle or Columbia Winery pruned the vines of progress? Growth of the region is good for the existing wineries. People look to a destination. A region with 10 wineries spread all across town (like Spokane was just 5 years ago) doesn’t garner much attention. Now, 8 tasting rooms downtown, 5 in the valley and 4 up north, there are distinct tasting regions that encourage day trips, weekend trips and walking tours of downtown. Wine events are happening daily, and the CVB’s First Friday Art Walk has become a signature event in Spokane. The city is thirsty for good wine and entertainment. Don’t believe me; just go to Arbor Crest on any given Sunday evening in the summer. Wine and smiles are all you’ll see.
Continued growth, either home grown or outside tasting rooms, means a greater draw from rural northern Washington, northern Idaho, and Western Montana. Maybe even some of those Tri-Cities folk will head east and do some wine tasting. While some fear the future, the future is coming. I predict 20 tasting rooms / wineries in and around the downtown core in just 5 years. Established wineries should embrace this change and plan for the increased tourism and business. As people visit, they’ll want to find your wine when they return to their homes. Wineries that track visitor patterns, set up appropriate distribution, and extend their tasting room through social media will see the juice flow.
As for Terranova, the journey continues. With 2007 wine bursting at its skins some tough business decisions lay ahead. Brent seems confident that the right doors will open and he can continue his quest of helping the Newfoundland rescue dogs.
Visit Terranova on the web: http://www.terranovacellars.com/
Tags: spokane, Wine Business
9 comments on “Squeezing the Juice out of Progress”
Sad to hear of resistance to “outside” tasting rooms. There is a similar sentiment from some in Woodinville about tasting rooms taking over in Woodinville. I think if it fills wine glasses and sells wine it’s all good. It makes Woodinville an incredible destination with more choices. Hope Spokane can see this as an opportunity.
Shona – I agree with you. Woodinville has done a tremendous job embracing the Washington wine community. I’m sure there were bumps along the way and still will be resistance to change. I think the part that Woodinville underestimated was the volume. Traffic and parking have got to be a major problem now…
With the sudden growth, I’m sure we’ll start to see a few close their doors as competition becomes increasingly strong.
Josh, I agree this is a shame. If the resistence is from existing wineries that is pretty foolhardy, because all they have to look at is Woodinville, Walla Walla, or Prosser to see that creating more winery destinations helps everyone in the area. More choice is what consumers, and in particular wine tourists, want.
If the argument truly is about “locally grown”, your example about pumpkins is a good one, and I wonder if the same resistence and argument happens whenever a coffee shop is proposed? Anybody growing coffee beans in Spokane these days?
I see no mention of Mountain Dome in your talking about Spokane wineries; are they still in business and included in the Spokane region?
And I suppose Spokane has limited the wine on store shelves to wines produced only in the region? There are no CA, French or Italian bottles available in Spokane? How provincial an attitude to take, especially in this economic climate.
Perhaps they think their local wines can’t stand up to closer comparison with other regional wines? From what I’ve tasted of Townshend and Mt. Dome, there are some great wines in the region and could only benefit from additional wineries featuring other well made wines in the ‘hood.
Sherman…I think if there is any fear it may from come thinking that if someone new comes to town, they may not be seen any longer as a tasting option…but other areas have proven that the opposite effect happens when you bring tasting rooms in to a central region. I think Spokane wineries are ready to embrace the growth.
Regarding Mountain Dome, they were in fact the last of the 17 wineries that I interviewed. You can find it by searching Mountain Dome from my site search or click the link below.
Its unfortunate about the Greenbluff disapproval – if it was based on ‘locally grown’, then why do they allow many other farms to sell goods that are not locally grown (besides pumpkins). It must be the politics, and the fact that the locals are affraid of a little competition. It’s ironic, because many of the farms that sell wine carry brands that are not grown or even bottled locally.
This is the email for the greenbluff association – firstname.lastname@example.org – maybe your readers can send them email stating how this is a poor decision on the associations part… – maybe a threat of a boycott?
David thanks for the info. I’ve heard several “backwards” thinking things from the Greenbluff growers from not wanting to be involved in things that were promoted by Northern Quest Casino (b/c of gambling) to this. As mentioned in the post, the soul blame can’t be put on Greenbluff, but there was an attitude of elitism conveyed and maybe even some closed door politics happening.
Not wanting to start a war here, but if readers did want to contact Greenbluff…now they can…
Well it seems at though this post has offended some locals.
First, let me say that I don’t see a hesitation or resistance to growth from any Spokane winery. Everyone I’ve come in contact with is excited about what Spokane has become and where it is going.
Second, as mentioned in the post, the full blame does not belong to Greenbluff association. Their resistance (not my words, but Terranovas) was an added piece that also involved county politics, permits, and their own unforseen facility issues. BUT, opening a business in a community that wouldn’t be supportive would be a challenge. It is also important to point out that Townshend and Trezzi were not part of the resistance. I see very little competition among the Spokane wineries. What is good for one is good for all.
Third, Townshend still produces T3. It’s a great wine but it is just not grown or made in Greenbluff. It used to be produced there but Don made the smart business decision to move production closer to the grapes. He can get to Tri-Cities several times a year and make the precious T3. Once a wine gets to be as popular as T3, hauling all those grapes to Spokane can be a challenge.
Anyway – that’s it. I appreciated the comments here and am really just sad for the Terranova family. I’m sure this was quite a blow to them and I wish them the best of luck.
I grew up in Woodinville and now live in Spokane, ironically. All I can say is, certain NIMBY’ers in Woodinville tried to prevent progress and growth because they didn’t want to share what they had discovered. Parking and traffic issues over there seem to prove this out. Spokane has a great chance to welcome much needed growth and demand, and another tasting room up north would only help attract more business up there. But the NIMBY’s moved in, and they have their sights set on preventing business growth. I love both Woodinville and Spokane, but seriously, when will people learn?