Finding a sip is a snap with Mobile Wine Tour app

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Move over guide books. Here comes the smart phone.

A mobile wine tour application introduced last July on behalf of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is being used by more and more people every day, according to the latest update from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

Use of the "Mobile Wine Tour" application after its launch was about 36 people per day on average. That figure has more than doubled to about 77 users per day this spring.

The numbers especially rocketed during two of the biggest tourist weekends of the spring this month. During Spring Release the first weekend in May, more than 800 people accessed the app. It had more than 500 users during the Balloon Stampede last weekend, said Shontina Gianotti-Coers, director of marketing and communication for the alliance.

"These numbers exceeded our expectations," Gianotti-Coers said in a prepared statement. "And, perhaps more importantly, we observed visitors of all ages accessing Mobile Wine Tour. Smartphones are rapidly becoming the visitors guide for many people."

The app was developed for the alliance as a beta test by Tacoma-based SiteCrafting. It's accessible on any smart phone, including Droids, Blackberries and iPhones through wallawalla.mobilewinetour.com or by a utilizing a quick response code, available at most local tasting rooms.

The GPS-based application allows users to identify the nearest tasting rooms. It also helps them find wineries that produce certain types of wine; hunt by tasting room hours; or identify which ones are open at the time of their search. It can also track down restaurants, lodging accommodations and other attractions.

SiteCrafting President Brian Forth said in the announcement the template developed for this market has been used for a number of other wine regions. A nationwide app for iOS and Android devices has also just been released.

The golden shovels were expected to be out today for the groundbreaking at Columbia Rural Electric Association's new Walla Walla location.

Board members for the Dayton-based electrical cooperative and local dignitaries were scheduled to break ground at the Melrose Street property purchased from the Port of Walla Walla.

Renovation of the 88,000-square-foot warehouse and construction of a 6,000-square-foot addition at the property will ramp up through June.

Columbia REA purchased the 10-acre property from the Port for about $5.3 million in a sale completed last January.

The revitalized facility will replace Columbia REA's existing Rees Avenue service center, which is undersized for the operation, officials have said. USKH Inc. has been the designer and engineer on the project. Construction will be led by Opp & Seibold General Construction.

Members of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee are adding another layer to this year's Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival.

The new Sweet Onion Restaurant Week will be the lead event to the festival, according to an announcement Monday.

Locally owned and operated restaurants are invited to join the event, designed to promote local dining along with the Walla Walla Sweet Onion through each restaurant's best Walla Walla Sweet-centric creations. Restaurant week will be July 9-15.

"The introduction of the Restaurant Week is a natural extension of the foodie celebration we are working to cultivate," said festival Director Kathy Fry-Tommald in a statement.

Participating restaurants will be charged $200 as well as provide a gift certificate to their establishment to be used for promotions surrounding the week. The monies raised through the participation fees paid by restaurants will be pooled to promote the week and the participating restaurants.

"The Walla Walla Sweet Onion has always held a special place in the agrarian history of Washington State and this recognition was cemented in 2007 when it was officially designated the State Vegetable of Washington State," said Michael Mettler of the Achieva Marketing Group. "We will be working hard to retool this festival in a manner that is both respectful and celebratory of the agrarian roots of the Walla Walla Valley and speak to both our community members and the gastronome tourist who is already coming to the region to enjoy fine wine, good food and culture."

For more information on Sweet Onion Restaurant Week contact Mettler at 529-5525 or michael@achievamarketing.com . For additional information on the festival itself contact Fry-Tommald at 525-1031 or kathy@sweetonions.org, or go to www.sweetonions.org.

Strictly Business is a local business column. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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