In vino perseverance: Winery launch faces barriers to entry

Dave Kelly’s new Clark County winery, Windy Hills, works through permitting process, regulatory red tape

LeAnne Bremer

From either his robust laugh or his aromatic cigar, Dave Kelly’s presence is often sensed before seen. But in establishing Windy Hills Winery, one of Clark County’s newest wineries and vineyards, Dave shows his most essential qualities to be his fortitude to snip through the regulatory red tape and his sunny optimism that it will all work out in the end. As Dave puts it, there are many barriers to entry in building a winery, and it is not an enterprise for those with an impatient disposition or a light pocketbook.

Windy Hills Winery will be located in the proverbial doughnut hole, within an area of Clark County surrounded on all sides by the city of Ridgefield.

While there are no immediate plans for Ridgefield to annex this area, it is on the radar, so it became important for Dave, and his wife, Karen, to build the winery because of current favorable zoning regulations.

The Kellys have already planted 8,600 grapevines on approximately nine acres of land previously devoted to Christmas trees, with plans to plant up to 10,000 vines.

The varietals include pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris, which should yield usable fruit in about four years. The Kellys will also purchase grapes from other locations for wine-making on site. Construction is soon to begin on a 7,000-square-foot building that will include the winery, a tasting room, a commercial kitchen and an events center for weddings and other gatherings, both inside and out.

The permitting process has not always been smooth or speedy, and the requirements to meet are numerous. The largest delay centered on working with the Department of Ecology on obtaining approval for a water system capable of supplying drinking water, irrigation and water storage facilities for firesuppression purposes because there is no public water nearby. Public health requirements kicked in for the commercial kitchen. Stormwater must be accommodated with two large on-site ponds. Clark County development standards establish rules for access, traffic, parking, ADA compliance, rain gardens and limits on the number of events, number of attendees and hours of operation. This does not include the necessary permits from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board to operate the business, which are estimated to take over six months to receive from the date of application. Dave hopes to be open for business by next Valentine’s Day.

In the end, the easiest part of this adventure has been planting the grapes. The next easiest thing to do would have been to annex to the city and convert the land to houses at a tidy profit. All told, and not counting the cost to plant the vineyard, Dave estimates that he will spend from $250,000 to $300,000 for this labor of love, but it will all be worth it and pay dividends in the end for the Kellys and the community because the Kellys like where they live, and they want to put their land to a productive and exciting use by becoming part of Clark County’s growing and thriving wine industry.

LeAnne Bremer is partner-in-charge of the Vancouver office of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, LLP, and assists clients with land use permitting and real estate transactions related to development. LeAnne’s husband, Robert Mayfield, will be the winemaker for Windy Hills Winery.

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