South Central Farmer Profile

Badger Mountain Vineyard – Kennewick, WA

Badger Mountain Vineyard is located in Benton County, overlooking the Columbia River just west of Kennewick. The vineyard is in the Columbia Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), one of Washington’s eleven wine appellations. The region is on the same latitude as the renowned vineyards of France, and over the past 20 years it has earned a reputation for world-class wines.

Bill Powers selected the Tri-Cities area because of its fine soils, arid climate, warm summer days and cool nights, all of which combine to produce the highest quality wine grapes.

When he planted the first vines in his new vineyard in 1982, Bill started out using conventional, chemical production practices. Within a few years, however, he began cutting back on the chemicals and began converting to organic farming techniques, including the use of compost and non-toxic pest controls, out of concern for his family’s and his neighbors’ health.

Bill and his son Greg converted the vineyard to 100% organic practices in 1988, and two years later they became the first wine grape vineyard certified organic by the WSDA Organic Food Program. In addition, the vineyard was more recently awarded “Salmon Safe” certification in recognition of their efforts to protect biodiversity, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat.

Today Badger Mountain Vineyard has grown to 70 acres of certified organic grapes, including Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Syrah, and White Riesling.

Greg Powers is the winemaker. He blends the vineyard’s different varieties of grapes to create the Badger Mountain NSA (No Sulfite Added) series of certified organic wines, which have only low levels of naturally occurring sulfites. Current offerings in the series include 2009 Riesling, 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Merlot, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Pure White, and 2010 Pure Red.

The winery’s Vintners Estate Series is made with at least 70% certified organically grown grapes and minimal sulfites to create flavorful wines that are affordable and have an extended shelf life. Wines currently available in the VES series include 2010 Riesling, 2010 Chardonnay, 2010 Sevé, and 2010 Syrah.

As part of the Powers family’s commitment to preserving agricultural land, in 2007 they introduced two new wines, Powers Cabernet and Powers Chardonnay, which are sold exclusively through PCC Natural Markets’ seven stores in the Seattle area. $2 from the sale of each bottle is donated to the PCC Farmland Trust. To date the program has raised more than $70,000 to support the trust’s efforts to save organic farmland forever.

In the vineyard, several techniques have been developed to grow the highest quality wine grapes without the use of harmful chemicals. One of the most innovative is a powerful tractor-mounted “pest fan” Bill devised to blow harmful cutworms off the vines and into netting so the insects can be removed from the plants and properly disposed.

In addition, pests are managed by providing habitat for predatory insects and strategic applications of natural soap compounds and other approved sprays when pest species get out of balance.

Other organic techniques include brewing compost tea in a 500-gallon tank to make their own liquid fertilizer, cover cropping, and using an in-row cultivator and a tractor-mounted propane weed burner to control unwanted vegetation rather than spraying herbicides. To maintain soil fertility, all of the crushed grape skins and seeds from the winery are composted and returned to the vineyard. Blood and fish meal are also used when needed to boost nitrogen levels and trace minerals.

To fuel the tractors used in their vineyard, Badger Mountain picks up used cooking oil from restaurants to distill into biodiesel, and solar panels provide 25% of the energy for their administrative building. Recently the winery installed a 2,200-square-foot solar array on their barrel room—one of the largest solar installations in the state.

“When we first started,” Bill said, “everyone acted like I was kind of a nut.” But people aren’t acting that way anymore. In 2007 Bill was honored with the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers’ “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and in 2010 he was inducted into the Walter Clore Center Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

What began more than two decades ago as Bill’s personal quest to find a better way of farming established Badger Mountain Vineyard as a celebrated leader in organic wine production, proving organic wines are good for both the planet and the palate.

Related Links

Badger Mountain Vineyard
Farm Profile: Badger Mountain Winery
Powers Winery, Vineyard Embraces the Sun
Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center