California winemakers and wine grape growers have long had an indispensable ally; an institution that has helped them survive droughts, pest invasions, and grapevine diseases that would otherwise have wreaked havoc on their wine. It’s called UC Davis, whose wine department has been a leader in the sciences that impact grape growing and winemaking. And soon, Washington State winemakers will be getting the equivalent of their own UC Davis.
On August 18, 2011, the Washington State Wine Commission announced a formal commitment of $7.4 million to support construction of the Wine Science Center at the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in Richland, Washington. This spells great news for the future of the state’s wine industry.
Vineyard growers and wineries here in Washington are faced with conditions and challenges uniquely their own. One example of this is that Washington growers need improving the winter hardiness of grapes — a problem that doesn’t affect California growers.
Kent Waliser, chair of the Washington State Wine Commission and general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards, said “The Washington State Wine Commission is thrilled to commit our industry’s support for this critically important project.” He continued, “Years from now, today will be seen as a significant milestone in the evolution of our industry.”
The funds for the new Wine Science Center will be generated through modest assessments levied on grape and wine production beginning with the 2011 harvest, and the Commission estimates that it will collect this $7.4 million total over approximately the next ten years.
A collaboration between the Port of Benton, the City of Richland, and Washington State University, this new state-of-the-art research and teaching facility will house the university’s rapidly expanding Viticulture and Enology program.
With a shortage of highly trained, skilled professionals in the wine industry today, there is significant need for the ability to educate a homegrown workforce capable of taking the Washington wine industry into the next generation.
Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, said, “The Wine Science Center will enable us to properly educate our industry’s future leaders. All of the world’s great wine regions have a benchmark institution that conducts research and education in the growing of grapes and winemaking.”
The Wine Science Center is the culmination of several years of work by industry leaders, dating back to the results of an industry research task force formed in 2006.
Lynne Chamberlain, chair of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG) and owner of Spofford Station Vineyards, said “As demand for Washington wine grew, we started to build our future, and WAWGG initiated the task force that identified necessary research to expand our economic impact here and around the world.” She continued, “Our currency is the raw resource, starting literally on the ground, and as we continue to find better tools and resources to meet our future, the newly-forming task force will address our long-term research needs, and the Wine Science Center will provide a home for our research.”
Once constructed, the new building—to be situated next to the current Washington State University campus in Richland on land donated by the Port of Benton and developed by a Public Development Authority created by the City of Richland—will be turned over to Washington State University.
Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, said “Washington State University is fully committed to our statewide, pioneering Viticulture and Enology program. Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, we believe this facility in the Tri-Cities will become a magnet for industry leaders, researchers, and students from around the world,” he added.
The Wine Science Center will facilitate research tailored to the specific needs of the Washington State wine industry in areas such as increasing vineyard and winery productivity, and enhancing grape and wine quality.
Marty Clubb, president of the Washington Wine Institute and owner of L’Ecole Nº 41 Winery, said “The research that will take place at the Wine Science Center will help ensure the continued growth of our industry in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.”
With over 700 wineries and more than 40,000 acres planted statewide, the Washington State wine industry contributes more than $3.0 billion annually to the state economy and $4.7 billion annually to the national economy.
John Fox, mayor of Richland, Washington, said “The wine industry is a major economic force in our community and region, and also a welcome addition to our quality of life.” He continued, “This center will assure that Washington wines and WSU-Tri-Cities will be internationally prominent in the decades to come.”
For more information on the Wine Science Center, please visit www.winecampaign.org.