KITTITAS COUNTY—Troy Goodreau's love affair with wine started many years ago. At an age when his peers had other interests, he was making wine. Goodreau took a wine diploma course when he was 14.

"I was the biggest bootlegger in junior high," Goodreau jokes.

But the passion has stuck with him over the years. Today he owns and operates the only licensed winery producing wine in Kittitas County. It's called Thrall and Dodge Winery, appropriately named for its location on Dodge Road off of Thrall Road, a few miles southeast of Ellensburg.

Goodreau says winemaking is both an art and a science. For those who have a romantic vision of the process, he says it's a lot of hard work.

The Washington wine industry is growing rapidly and a group of Kittitas County residents, including Goodreau, want a taste of that success. Over the past few years, the wine industry has been emerging in Kittitas County and promoters hope to keep the momentum going.

The wine industry in Washington, though still in its infancy compared to France, Italy or even California, is growing dramatically. As the second largest wine producing state in the country (second to California), Washington has more than 680 licensed wineries, according to the Washington Wine Commission.

In 2005 that number was only 360 and in 2000 there were only 155 wineries in the state.

"If we're together it creates a synergy and energy in this valley that will make us a wine destination," Goodreau said.

Kittitas Valley

Goodreau started a group called Kittitas Valley Vintners in 2007 as a means to help promote the wine industry in the county. Members include other winemakers, vineyard owners and wine-related business owners from the area. One specific campaign slogan pegs the county as the gateway to wine country.

"We all understand that we're not known as a wine region," Goodreau said, but he hopes that will soon change.

The group is working to get a sign posted on Interstate 90 that indicates wine country starts in Kittitas County and steers people off the beaten path to explore the towns and countryside.

The wine brand fits in with the county, Goodreau said, because grapes are an agricultural crop and tourism is a major aspect of the wine industry.

"Kittitas Valley has always been a farming community," Goodreau said. "Winemaking is a farming industry.

"Ellensburg is already a tourist town and wine is a tourist industry."

He said in proximity to Seattle, this is the closest valley and if it can be recognized as a wine destination, hotels and restaurants will be full and the county will see increased revenue.

Critical mass

Gary Cox echoes Goodreau's enthusiasm to create a wine country in the county. Cox owns Cox Canyon Vineyards in the canyon along the Yakima River just south of Ellensburg.

"We now have a critical mass in Ellensburg," Cox said. "There's now five wineries. That's a critical mass that kind of puts us on the map."

Cox said people who are heading to Yakima wine country and the Columbia Basin are coming via Interstate 90.

"This needs to be the gateway," Cox said. "Make Ellensburg a destination, not a pit stop."

Cox said his aim is to not only introduce wine in the county, but also show all the recreational opportunities and other activities available.

"Show them all the different things to do," Cox said. "Fly fishing, antiquing, mountaineering... I do all these things so I know what I speak of."

Jobs are another benefit, Cox said.

"Every job we create in the Washington wine industry will never be exported," Cox said. "The more jobs we create grows our industry."

The Washington Wine Commission reported that the wine industry accounted for $3 billion in revenue statewide and $4.7 billion nationwide in 2006. The commission is in the middle of a new study, and spokesman Ryan Pennington said he expects those numbers to be much higher.

Pennington said there's been a significant increase in tourism. Hundreds of wineries have opened and thousands of acres of grapes have been planted since the last study.

Education is another important part of the equation, Cox said. He referenced the World Wine Program at Central Washington University.

"That has done wonders for filling the gap for wine knowledge," Cox said.

What makes us different

World Wine Program coordinator and instructor Amy Mumma said focusing on being the gateway to wine country is a bad idea.

"Everyone is fighting over that," Mumma said. "I think it's just a huge mistake."

Why not be a part of wine country, rather than a gateway, she said, explaining that the term might further portray Ellensburg as a pit stop.

"Kittitas County is going to have to develop its own identity," Mumma said.

Mumma holds academic credentials from France, England and the United States and knows about the worldwide wine industry.

"I'm actually excited that we're actually starting to see a wine industry here in Kittitas County," Mumma said.

Mumma suggests the county try to make its mark in the wine industry in a different way than Yakima.

"We have different soils and climate," Mumma said. "We'll be growing different flavors... points of difference are important."

Kittitas County should support Yakima and Yakima should support Kittitas County, she said.

Tasting wine

Vineyards and wineries aren't the only keys to having a thriving wine industry. Mumma said tasting rooms such as the newly opened Brix Elevage Wine Co. and Gard Vintners, as well as retail shops like Gifts of the Vine and Ellensburg WineWorks, add to a successful wine region.

Wine tourists have to have access to places that sell local and world wines. "The Valley Cafe is huge," she said, referring to the award-winning restaurant's extensive wine list.

"We can't forget Suncadia," Mumma said, referring to the resort's restaurants and Swiftwater Cellars winery set to open this fall.

Mumma said one of the challenges to creating a good wine industry in the county is identity.

"Washington faces an identity crisis," she said. In the store, "you're faced with this wall of wine," making it hard for people to pick out a Washington wine.

Ron Cridlebaugh, executive director of the Economic Development Group of Kittitas County said the tourism draw is a big plus with the wine industry, which amounts to more money in the local economy.

"I credit the wine industry with the revitalization of Walla Walla," Cridlebaugh said.

He said about five to seven wineries must open to have the critical mass necessary for a wine infrastructure.

"I could see a winery opening up in Roslyn and Cle Elum," Cridlebaugh said.

He said he's spoken with two wineries in the last 18 months that have shown interest in the county. The key, Cridlebaugh said, is to get them before they go somewhere else.

"I'd love to see us with about 15... and I think we'll get there," Cridlebaugh said. "It's just good for everybody."

More wine coverage inside Saturday's print edition:

  • Why here? Why is Kittitas County a good environment for wine grapes?
  • The economy: How is the recession affecting the industry?
  • Local business: A look at some new and existing wine businesses in the area.



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