RIDGEFIELD — In Clark County’s fastest-growing city, not only is the housing market booming, the wine industry is, as well.
The quiet city of about 6,000 residents is home to five wineries — Bethany Vineyard, Confluence Winery, Gouger Cellars, Koi Pond Cellars and Three Brothers. And Mayor Ron Onslow said there’s plenty of room for more.
The city is seizing on the success of those businesses to market Ridgefield as a new and thriving wine destination. The strategy is part of the city’s plan to draw more homeowners, day trippers and businesses to what’s become one of Washington’s fastest-growing cities.
This spring, city officials are working with one of Ridgefield’s most popular wineries on a project to enhance the visibility of the local wine scene at the busiest entrance to the city. Plans are in the works to plant marechal foch grape vines from Gouger Cellars in two roundabouts along Pioneer Street on each side of the Ridgefield Junction.
Gary Gouger, the owner of Gouger Cellars, approached Onslow with the idea of growing the grapes on the roundabouts and using them to make a variety of wines — roses, sparkling reds, ports and others.
“I think Ridgefield is ideal for a wine region,” Gouger said. “There’s so much land right out here that a few more wineries could come in, and it’s just perfect for people to get off the freeway real easy and get right back on after they do some wine tasting.”
Onslow loved the proposal, and suggested calling the wine Ridgefield Roundabout Red. The grapes would be a better use of the roundabouts, he said, and they would give visitors a sense of what Ridgefield is all about.
“It’s kind of a precursor to people coming off the freeway that this is wine country,” Onslow said.
The roundabouts will be able to grow about 340 grape vines, enough to produce 70 cases of wine each year. Gouger will give the wine to the city at no charge, and Onslow said the city will serve it at grand openings and fundraisers.
Gouger plans to plant the vines next month, and the city’s working out the final details before he can get started. Volunteers working with the city will take care of the plants with a little guidance from Gouger.
The grapes may not be visible for a few years, and they won’t be ready to use for another year or so after that, Gouger said. But he believes the move is a small step toward helping fill out some of the holes in Ridgefield’s development.
“I think that by starting on this path, the money will start to flow into the region,” Gouger said. “It would be great to have a grocery store, or maybe a small hotel or something. In my mind, I think that those things would all lead to (growing) industries and it would help the downtown area grow and thrive, as well.”
Gouger’s business has flourished since he moved his winery from an 860-square-foot space in downtown Vancouver into an old fire station in Ridgefield a little less than two years ago.
Last year, Gouger nearly doubled his intake of grapes, and now he’s ready to expand.
This spring, Gouger is planning a major remodel to spruce up some of the aesthetics and create more seating room, a larger bar for tastings and more kitchen space for a new guest chef series with wine pairings he intends to start soon. The project will also include new lighting, a second bathroom and wall panels to hide the exposed insulation.
“I’m really pleased with how business has grown,” he said. “But I don’t want it to get too big. I went into this whole thing because I wanted to have fun and not because I wanted to just work myself to death.”
Gouger also supplements his sales by using his wine to make a variety of ice cream. For now, it’s sold only at the winery, but he’s considering expanding to wholesale after recently purchasing an ice cream maker that can turn out five gallons every 15 minutes.
“I figured out how to get all the alcohol out, so there’s no alcohol and there’s no added sugar (in the ice cream),” he said. “I want any age group to be able to have it.”