Aquilini family presses on with Washington state wine venture

When the Aquilini Investment Group successfully trumped other bidders for 670 acres of vineyard land in Washington state in November 2013, there was a lot of...

A plan to redevelop an airstrip in Washington state’s Port of Kennewick reflects ideas seen in many mixed-used communities in B.C. | Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co.

Wining combinations

When the Aquilini Investment Group successfully trumped other bidders for 670 acres of vineyard land in Washington state in November 2013, there was a lot of speculation about its plans.

Buzz about the deal still continues, as a recent visit to properties surrounding the purchase in the rapidly expanding Red Mountain viticultural area highlighted. But the Aquilinis themselves have forged on, tapping local expertise to get the best sense of what to plant and prepping a first batch of wine with local grapes bought for the purpose.

Barry Olivier, who as president of Aquilini Brands has been charged with developing the new venture, attended the recent Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual meeting to forge links with an industry in which Aquilini, by virtue of its real estate holdings, will become a significant player.

Plans call for high-density plantings this spring on 500 acres on Red Mountain, as well as the development of 300 acres in the adjacent Horse Heaven Hills viticultural area where the company also recently acquired property.

“We’re approaching this with humility and trying to learn; we’re trying to do everything right in the service of quality,” Olivier said recently. “We’re a very ambitious company and we want to succeed.”

But the family’s expertise in real estate – something local vintners said they’d read about in this and other papers – is also something the Washington wine industry hopes will come in handy.

Red Mountain is wrapping up a number of significant infrastructure projects including irrigation and road networks, and a number of new wineries have been built with more planned.

But it lacks accommodation to match the growth.

Many in the industry hope the Aquilinis will use some of their land to help foster tourism in the area, perhaps by building a hotel or other amenities that give tourists a place to stay.

B.C. expertise

Washington state’s Tri-Cities is, quipped a B.C. winemaker attending the recent Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers meeting, where (with apologies to Jane Austen) the truth universally acknowledged is that a single blade of grass in possession of its roots must be in want of paving.

Indeed, it has been a while since this columnist traipsed over such vast expanses of parking lot merely to reach a mall.

But in a nod to contemporary urban planning, the Port of Kennewick hopes to redevelop a local airstrip a short distance from those acres of parking lots into a compact, European-style mixed-use community.

Drafted by planning consultants Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., which also had a hand in the early stages of planning for Vancouver’s East Fraserlands (which Wesgroup is developing as the 130-acre River District), the plan for Kennewick’s airfield calls for a mix of housing types including live-work studios, a market area, a performing arts centre and connections accommodating pedestrians and bicycles as well as motor vehicles.

It’s a stark contrast to what currently exists in the area, but, according to local officials, it appears to be “the only alternative that wouldn’t require a property tax increase.” Indeed, early projections suggest that redevelopment of the property could yield up to 3,380 jobs and US$408 million in “new (taxable) buildings – meaning new revenues for police, fire, hospital, libraries, schools, parks and other services.”

It’s also familiar to those who have watched Metro Vancouver grow in recent years, underscoring both the example the region offers other areas as well as the relatively high quality of life that development delivers locals.

Meanwhile, in Idaho …

Vancouver developers who think they’ve got approval-time issues with municipalities will empathize with the homebuilder from Idaho whose tale of woe poured out over breakfast at a stop on this columnist’s recent stateside sojourn.

Talking shop with colleagues from Oregon, the builder groused about inconsistencies in estimates to receive permits. In his part of Idaho, one planner might tell you permitting will take nine months. But if you continue to discuss the file, you might just find permitting will really wrap up in 60 days.

Of course, even nine months is breakneck speed to some developers in the Vancouver area.

Polygon Homes Ltd. president Neil Chrystal recently told the Urban Development Institute that approval times of up to 30 months aren’t uncommon in some municipalities, while the six months required at the University of British Columbia is an anomaly.