Last week's visit to Bingen by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R.-Wash.) was a strong and welcome show of support for the area's growing wine industry.
Hastings met with several local winery owners at the Bad Seed Cider House on State Route 14 in Bingen, and discussed issues -- federal tax policies, rules on interstate shipping, pesticide use, water rights -- that impact their businesses.
It's not overstating the situation to believe that Klickitat County and its wines are poised for a major economic boom, perhaps on the order of what Hood River County went through with its windsurfing business transformation of the 1980s and 1990s.
There are about 25 wineries or vineyards currently operating in Klickitat County, and the statewide statistics regarding the industry's impacts are telling. According to the Washington Winegrowers Association, the industry employs 11,250 across the state, and provides $2.4 billion in total financial impact.
Besides the hard work of area vineyard owners and winemakers, several entities have played a key role in boosting the industry. Klickitat County's Economic Development Department has been actively promoting the wine industry within the county, and has pushed the effort to closely identify the county with the production of high quality wines. The work of the Klickitat Wine Alliance, which has marketed the industry, and the backing of local and regional political leaders has also helped.
The efforts of these different organizations and individuals has also helped create a receptive opening for new businesses that focus on wines. For example, in Bingen within just the last few months, two unique businesses have grabbed a ride on this surging economic wave. These are the stylish Gorge Wine Merchants wine tasting shop in Bingen and, right next door, Viento, a classy restaurant that features Klickitat County-produced and other Gorge wines as central to its emphasis.
These two ventures have already had a strong positive impact, not only on the local economy (Viento employs 11, almost all from the Bingen-White Salmon community), but also by replacing empty, neglected storefronts with vibrant and attractive enterprises that help make the downtown business district shine with fresh energy. This increases the odds that other businesses will like what they see enough to bring their operations to Bingen.
Especially with all this new economic life being generated, we appreciate that U.S. Rep. Hastings recognized the impact wine production is having and came here to show support for local producers.