WALLA WALLA -- The City Council approved an amendment Wednesday to allow distilleries in light and heavy industrial zones, a move that could one day result in a very small fraction of local wheat being made into vodka in the city.
"The thought of using wheat is that we are in Walla Walla, we are in wheat country, we know wheat farmers out there, and it would be good to use local wheat," Precept Wines Vice President of Finance Phil Kazanjian said.
The vote was 5-1, with Council member Jim Barrow opposed; Council member Shane Laib was absent.
Barrow objected because any future permit decisions to allow distilleries would be administrative ones, and would not require notifications to local neighbors and businesses.
"I am particularly concerned that the level one review does not have a notice process where the neighbors would be notified of this," Barrow said.
While level one decisions are normally handled without postings or mailings, Brian Walker, assistant director of Development Services, said in some cases the public will still be notified, such as when the proposed site borders residentially zoned land.
Kazanjian said Precept Wines will sell its vodka primarily in the Pacific Northwest and expects to begin production with somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 cases.
"It just seems like vodka is a more desirable product. Vodka sales are doing really well," Kazanjian said.
When and where the company will produce the vodka is still unknown.
In 2008, Precept Wines applied for and was successful at getting the county to approve distilleries in agriculture residential zones.
The company's goal was to put a distillery at Waterbrook Winery, 10518 Highway 12.
Kazanjian said it would have had to build a separate structure at Waterbrook to house the distillery, so it made more sense to either use the Canoe Ridge Vineyard facility, 1102 W. Cherry St., or to invest in another building nearby.
The amendment allows the company to manufacture only distilled spirits.
Sales and consumption of vodka on the premises would be regulated by the state.
Kazanjian added the primary goal is to establish distribution and regional sales, but the company might consider a tasting room at a later date.
"We really are just not sure. Having a retail room or tasting room is not the most important thing, it is not the priority," he said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.