America's interest in wine and wine culture has uncorked a new kind of real estate development. Living in or near wine country has gained the cache once reserved only for golf course communities. Here in the Northwest, several planned developments are promoting a life in the vines. Guy Hand reports.
Guy Hand: “So what kind of grapes are we passing by?”
Ron Bitner: “Those are Chardonnay on this side and riesling on that side….”
In southern Idaho, grape grower Ron Bitner drives over rolling hills lined with grape vines.
Ron Bitner: “This is going to be the site of the custom crush facility and from here you get 360 degree views of the valley all the way from Boise to the east….”
We're in Sunnyslope, a well-established wine producing region near Caldwell. Bitner points to various spots where a stunningly ambitious vineyard / real estate hybrid will soon take root. Polo Cove will cover 1600 acres.
Ron Bitner: “You know, the hotel's going to be built back into this side here….”
Bitner, an advisor for Polo Cove, points to where the restaurant will go, the charter school, the adult learning center, the homes.
Ron Bitner: “We're going to build between 65 and 70 vineyard bungalows or condominiums that will actually be built into the vineyards. We'll continue to farm those vineyards, 'cause we know how to farm it, but people can have their weekend homes and be in Idaho wine country.”
Some homes will even come with “wine pods,” a high-tech kind of bread making machine for the amateur vintner.
Dump in 30 pounds of grapes, hook it up to your computer, and a month later you've got a good chardonnay.
This grape-infused life style is sprouting up all over the Northwest. Oregon has developments. Washington — where an application for a new winery is filed every 6 days — is ripe for a life in the vines.
Music and announcer: “Inspired by Tuscany, coming to the Yakima Valley, welcome to The Vineyards, Washington wine country's most spectacular resort community….”
The Vineyards is a 500-acre development near Yakima with close to 600 planned home sites, a boutique hotel and a vintner's club. Manager Gary Scott.
Gary Scott: “The whole project is themed around wine country. They'll be between 20 and 30 acres of active vineyards on the property. In fact you'll be playing golf through the vineyards.”
But all this wine and winery living is giving some long-time Northwest locals a hang over. Dan Clark is an attorney in Walla Walla. He worries about the abrupt cultural changes wine has wrought on his once sleepy town.
Dan Clark: “There's excitement through all sectors about the vitality of the community and yet there's concern about sprawl into the fields, about being overtaken by a culture that is in effect driving out working people because they can't afford to live here although they do need to work here. The question is: how much is enough?”
Back in Idaho, Ron Bitner thinks wine-centric development will actually help rural Idaho stay rural.
Ron Bitner: “Because if it was just more golf courses and homes all over this, I would be totally opposed to it… . But I think this project is going to protect a lot of that land.”
Bitner says roughly half of the nearly 2 square miles slated for Polo Cove development will remain in farm land.
Ron Bitner: “Yea, it's going to bring more traffic out here, more people out here, it's going to be a destination, but it's better having a tourist type of economy out here where people come and leave their dollars because I grew up in the little town of Midvale, and you have to leave those towns, you have to leave these towns because there's nothing left for the kids. But if we can develop ag. or tourist related or the hotels that allow people to stay and live here, I think that's great.”
But different. The view from this hill-of rolling fields, modest farmhouses, and the occasional magpie-is going to change. Dramatically. And that change will be fueled by wine. In Sunnyslope, Idaho I'm Guy Hand reporting.