Building permit issued for Wine Science Center

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 10, 2014 

The future "world-leading" Wine Science Center is on track to open to students next January.

Richland issued a building permit for a $11.8 million center that industry officials hope will help further expand the state's growing wine industry.

Officials held a ground breaking for the facility this fall at the corner of George Washington Way and University Drive near Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Work began last year on preparing the ground and forming the foundation for the nearly 40,000-square-foot building.

Students may be in the building as soon as January 2015, but the research equipment likely will not be completely installed until spring 2015.

About $4 million is still needed to raised for the $23 million budget, including research equipment and furnishings.

The center is something members of the state's wine and grape industry felt the state needed, said Diahann Howard, Port of Benton's director of economic development and governmental affairs.

It's important to have science that allows the industry to grow, as well as having winemakers who know the area's soils and conditions.

Ultimately, the center will help add jobs and increase investment in the state, she said. The Port of Benton contributed the land to the project, transferring it to WSU Tri-Cities.

Washington's wine industry contributed about $8.6 billion to the state's economy in 2011. Since then, farmers have harvested larger, record-breaking crops, with last year's crop estimated at nearly 218,000 tons, up 16 percent from the 2012 record.

WSU provides the only four-year bachelor's degree program in viticulture and enology in the Pacific Northwest.

WSU Tri-Cities started offering the complete degree in 2010, said Thomas Henick-Kling, director of the program. Before then, some of the required courses were offered only in Pullman.

And WSU's wine business management degree is the only wine business undergraduate degree offered in the U.S., he said.

The main entrance to the Wine Science Center will be reminiscent of the profile of a wine barrel. And the upper floor of the two-story building will be level with George Washington Way.

The building has been designed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards.

From the lobby, visitors and students will be able to see down into the two-story fermentation lab, also called the research winery, and access the wine library.

The foundation for the 6,500-square-foot research winery already has been poured. This is what some call the "heart" of the science center, and will have up to 192 research fermentation tanks, which is larger than the research winery at University of California, Davis.

One wing will include classrooms and a teaching lab. The other wing will feature multiple research labs, including those for plant physiology, microbiology and biochemistry, chemistry and sensory research. That wing also will have offices, rooms for incubators, refrigerators and freezers and a microscope room.

The center will have its own greenhouse, thanks to a recently announced $250,000 donation by Patsy J. Mercer, the Mercer family and Mercer Canyons Inc.

The Washington State Wine Commission, the state Legislature, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, individual wineries and growers and other industry representatives have contributed to the project.

About seven faculty will be in the center itself, but more will use it, Howard said.

The researchers currently have limited facilities in Prosser, Howard said. The new center will allow for more needed research. But researchers will continue to use the research vineyards in Prosser.

Research priorities that members of Washington's wine and grape industry have identified include processing and receiving practices that affect grape and wine quality, water management, pest and diseases, plant improvement, health and nutrition, mechanization, microbiology and product quality.

WSU will be able to build on collaborations with UC Davis, Cornell University, Oregon State University, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Australia, said officials.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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