$17 million is in place for Wine Science Center

Luminaries gather in Richland to toast site for WSU facility

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RICHLAND -- Washington State University has raised $17 million to build the Wine Science Center in Richland and is on track to break ground in a year.

About 125 turned out on a blustery day Friday at the site of the future wine research facility, including Gov. Chris Gregoire to ceremonially sign more than $5 million pledged this year by the Legislature.

As wind gusted over sparkling wine glasses and the dais, Gregoire said it was a bad hair day -- but a good day for the wine industry.

Richland will build the center on Port of Benton land using money WSU raised, then land and building will be handed over to WSU.

Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville and chairman of the fundraising effort, was amazed by how quickly the funds have come in.

The Washington Wine Commission pledged $7.4 million toward building the center, which will not only educate the next generation of Washington winemakers, but also conduct research for winemakers and grape growers.

With the $5 million from the state and $2.06 million announced Friday from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, among other contributions, industry leaders are looking forward to construction.

About $15.25 million is needed to build the facility, which will include a working winery. So far, $12.4 million has been raised for construction, and another $4.1 million has been designated for equipment.

The Port of Benton is providing $350,000 in land, and Terence L. Thornhill in Pasco has donated $150,000 worth of architectural and design services.

On Friday, Spokane Industries pledged to donate $600,000 worth of stainless steel tanks.

Baseler would like another $4 million raised so construction can be completed in one phase, not two. Diahann Howard, director of economic development for the Port of Benton, is confident that will happen.

Howard said the Wine Science Center Development Authority, which is operated by the city, is ready to begin designing and would soon seek construction bids.

The city is on track to break ground next fall, and construction is expected to take 12 months. WSU officials say it is conceivable that the center could crush its first grapes during the 2014 harvest.

Steve Warner, executive director for the Washington Wine Commission, said having a research facility in Washington is vital.

"Washington is different from California and different from Burgundy," he said. "We have our own unique challenges in the areas of viticulture. It's imperative that we have this research done locally."

In Benton County alone, the wine industry is worth $1 billion a year and generates $43 million in state and local taxes, according to an economic impact study released in late April.

Benton County produces more wine than any other county in the state, thanks to large producers such as Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Paterson, Hogue Cellars in Prosser and Barnard Griffin in Richland. The industry is responsible for 27,000 jobs across the state and almost 5,200 in Benton County.

Grape grower Kent Waliser, who manages Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco and is chairman of the Washington Wine Commission, said the partnership with WSU is vitally important.

"The industry can't do this without a university, and the university can't grow its institution without a partnership with the wine industry," he said.