‘Unique’ viticulture land on Red Mountain to be auctioned Saturday

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The rare opportunity to cultivate new wine grape vines on prime Red Mountain land near Benton City goes up for bid Saturday.

Kennewick Irrigation District is selling 670 acres of undeveloped land, much of it soon to be irrigated with Yakima River water.

It’s a likely a one-time shot at one-fifth of what’s left of the 4,040-acre Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, said Scott Musser of Musser Bros. Auctions and Real Estate of Pasco.

“This land is really a unique specimen,” he said. “It’s in limited supply.”

Red Mountain is the state’s smallest American Viticultural Area. About 1,400 of its acres are planted to vineyards, and it’s home to several wineries. Dozens of other winemakers throughout Washington use Red Mountain grapes.

Just last week, one of Napa Valley’s premier wineries, Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., announced plans to open a Cabernet Sauvignon-focused winery using grapes from there.

Musser Bros. will auction off 31 parcels starting at 2 p.m. Saturday at their Pasco office, 3035 Rickenbacker Dr. Each parcel is about 20 acres.

Musser said the auctioneers already are seeing great interest from potential buyers from Washington, Oregon and California, as well as some possible foreign investors.

“This is going to be a very big day in KID’s history,” said KID Manager Chuck Freeman.

KID officials hope to bring more land into irrigated agriculture, he said.

It also represents a potential economic boon to the state, as well as income for KID that can be reinvested into infrastructure. It’s not clear how much the auction could raise.

Irrigated farmland in Benton and Franklin counties brings $1.9 billion into the pockets of people tied to the agricultural industry each year, according to a 2012 report by Pacific Northwest Project, a Kennewick consulting firm specializing in water, energy and natural resources.

The Red Mountain land being offered Saturday is diverse, with about half north of Highway 224 and half south, Musser said.

Geologist Alan Busacca analyzed the land for sale, and his findings are available on the auctioneer’s website. He rated the parcels based on their slope, soil type, drainage, farmability and other factors.

A public open house is planned at the Red Mountain properties from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.There also is an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the auctioneer’s Pasco office.

All of the 31 parcels will receive Yakima River water through a $20.2 million local improvement district project.

Most of the 20 acres are receiving a water allotment for about 18 acres, since roads and some improvements on the property will not need water, said Musser.

Buyers will assume the responsibility to pay their portion of the improvement district cost, he said. They have up to 25 years to pay it back.

KID’s board of directors plan a special meeting during the Saturday auction so they can go into a closed-door session to discuss specific offers and then can accept or reject the bids in open session.

The board also has scheduled a meeting for 9 a.m. Monday at the district’s Kennewick office if needed to finish selling the land. Freeman said the board has 72 hours to make a decision on all the parcels.

Bidders can bid on any parcel or combination of parcels, until the auction is over, Musser said. There are endless possibilities.

Bidders need to deposit $10,000 and can start registering at noon Saturday.

Construction is under way on the pumphouse and the 90,000 feet of pipe that will bring water to the properties by next summer.

KID officials have said about 400 of the privately owned acres included in the improvement district are currently vineyards being irrigated with groundwater. They will switch to river water once it becomes available.

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