by Brooke Herron
Situated on a former World War II army airfield, the area known as the Walla Walla Airport District is now home to both Walla Walla’s airport and a budding drinks district. Renovated mess halls, hangars and garages now host winery tasting rooms, distilleries and breweries.
Port of Walla Walla owns the 600-acre property, which is home to at least 17 wineries, two breweries, two distilleries a couple of eateries, semi-permanent food trucks and a coffee roaster, as well as over a dozen other local businesses that hold offices here. Because their landlord is the Port of Walla Walla, and not commercial real estate companies motivated by profits, tenants enjoy lower than market-rate rents without the stress of having to worry about huge rent increases.
The Airport District Incubator Program, designed to “improve chances for business success,” provides small business and production spaces for five winery or craft beverage startups. The rent charged for these modest spaces is low, especially for the first couple of years and then incrementally increases over a period of six years as a way to encourage businesses to graduate to their own spaces before the end of the six-year period. Leases cannot be renewed after that time (making way for more new first-time businesses to move in). This arrangement allows fledgling businesses without a huge amount of startup capital to launch sooner and gives them a better chance at long-term success.
Since 2006, a total of seventeen businesses have launched their brands in these Airport incubator spaces with twelve having graduated and moved into larger spaces of their own. One of these success stories is Burwood Brewery, a brewery that launched its business for the first time in an Airport District incubator space back in 2014 and so successfully grew their business and following over the next three years that they were able to move into a new, much larger state of the art brewery and space (conveniently, just around the corner from their original incubator space) in 2017.
In addition to the incubator program businesses, the Airport District has become home to other fledgling wine and spirits brands seeking to situate themselves somewhere both conveniently located and affordable.
A full list of the wineries, breweries, and other businesses in the Airport District can be found at wallawallaairport.com/airport-information/airport-tenants. Plan your visit to Walla Walla, Washington, at https://wallawalla.org.
Currently, there are five businesses occupying incubator spaces:
Eternal Wine/Drink Washington State
Eternal Wine’s focus is on terroir-driven, single-vineyard wines, made from Rhone varietals and produced using natural winemaking methods. Their sister label, Drink Washington State, focuses on approachable blends made with fruit sourced from Washington State’s most unique AVAs. eternalwine.com
Golden Ridge Cellars
Golden Ridge Cellars focuses on full-bodied red blends and single-varietal wines made from Bordeaux varietals grown in their estate Walla Walla vineyards. They also make a chardonnay. The winery regularly wins awards for their wines at major Pacific Northwest wine competitions such as Northwest Wine Summit, Great Northwest Wine and Seattle Wine Awards. goldenridgecellars.com
Launched in 2021, Hoquetus (the Latin word for a medieval sound device—yes, the winemaker is a musician) focuses on wines that evoke a sense of place, sourcing grapes from unique Walla Walla and Blue Mountain vineyard sites. Varieties produced here include riesling, syrah, and cabernet franc. hoquetuswine.com
itä Wines opened the doors to their incubator tasting room in 2020 shortly after they bottled their first vintage. The focus at itä is on freshness and highlighting the unique profile of the fruit the winery sources from Blue Mountains foothills vineyards. itawinery.com
SMAK is an exclusively rosé-focused winery crafting a range of rosé wines inspired by the different seasons of the year. Owner-winemaker Fiona Mak’s mantra is that “rosé isn’t just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle.” She tries to create a fun, casual environment at SMAK for her guests where they can just relax and hang out and enjoy good wines (no stuffy formal tastings here). smakwines.com