New WSU wine center planned in Richland

The $7.4 million center will be paid for by assessments on grape and wine production.

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A new $7.4 million Wine Science Center in Richland will prepare the next generation of winemakers and viticulturists with help from the fruits of the current ones.

The Washington State Wine Commission has committed $7.4 million to support construction of the Wine Science Center at the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in Richland. The money will be generated over the next 10 years through assessments levied on grape and wine production, starting with the 2011 harvest, according to an announcement Thursday.

"The Washington State Wine Commission is thrilled to commit our industry's support for this critically important project," said Kent Waliser, chairman of the Washington State Wine Commission and general manager of Sagemoor Vineyards, in a prepared statement. "Years from now, today will be seen as a significant milestone in the evolution of our industry."

The project is a collaboration between the Port of Benton, city of Richland and Washington State University.

Designed as a state-of-the-art research and teaching facility, the center will be home to the university's growing Viticulture and Enology program. The 45,000-square-foot facility will also be a gathering place for industry collaboration, international students and visiting scholars from around the world, according to an online description.

The building will include: a gravity-flow research and teaching winery; extensive research laboratories; a multi-level research and teaching winery, including grape-processing area, fermentation area with temperature-controlled tanks and controlled temperature rooms for large-scale testing, filtration and bottling equipment, a grape and wine analysis lab, and greenhouses for vine propagation and vine physiology research; a teaching vineyard; a regional and international wine library; teaching classrooms, conference rooms and lecture halls; and a gift shop and restaurant/cafeteria.

The Wine Science Center will be constructed on land donated by the Port of Benton and developed by a Public Development Authority created by the city of Richland. Once the facility is completed it will be turned over to Washington State University. Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling will lead the operation expected to be a magnet for industry leaders, researchers and students.

In the works since the formation of an industry task force in 2006, the center is expected to facilitate research tailored to wine industry needs across Washington state. Those include improving winter hardiness, increasing vineyard and winery productivity, and enhancing grape and wine quality.

"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," said Marty Clubb, owner of L'Ecole No 41 and president of the Washington Wine Institute, in a statement.

More than 700 wineries are licensed in Washington state, home to more than 40,000 acres of planted grapes. The wine industry, officials said in the announcement, contributes more than $3 billion to the state's annual economy, and $4.7 billion to the country's each year.

Spofford Station owner and Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers chairwoman Lynne Chamberlain said the task force will continue to play a role in partnership with the center.

Ted Baseler, president and chief executive officer of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and chairman of the board of regents for WSU, said the the facility will prepare Washington's future wine 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," Baseler said in a statement. "The Wine Science Center will enable us to properly educate our industry's future leaders."

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