The name was announced as part of a dedication ceremony Thursday that drew more than 300 supporters of WSU and the state wine industry.
WSU also reached its goal of having the construction of the $23 million research and teaching center paid for in time for the grand opening.
Ste. Michelle, a longtime supporter of WSU’s viticulture and enology program, donated the remaining $500,000 needed for the long-awaited facility, officials announced Thursday.
WSU decided to name the building the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center in recognition of the 25 years of support Ste. Michelle has given to the university.
The company didn’t ask for its name on the building, said Ted Baseler, Ste. Michelle’s president and CEO. However, they were honored by WSU’s decision.
The Wine Science Center will help Washington state with its goal of becoming one of the top three premier wine regions in the world, Baseler said.
It’s critical to have well-trained future viticulturists, winemakers and scientists, he said. The work done at the Wine Science Center will help the industry stay ahead of viruses, pests and other challenges and continue to elevate the quality of the product.
“Without the scientific research and education that will be performed at this building, the industry would have been taking a giant risk,” said Baseler, who served as chairman of WSU’s Wine Campaign.
Right now, it’s the most technologically advanced facility of its kind in the world, said Ron Mittelhammer, WSU dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. The fermentation system designed for University of California Davis was upgraded for the Wine Science Center.
And opening the Wine Science Center in the Tri-Cities means it is about an hour’s drive away from 80 percent of the state’s 850 wineries, said Dan Bernardo, WSU provost and executive vice president.
Originally when Bernardo decided on the Tri-Cities as the future location, “I had everybody mad at me,” he said. “But it was the right thing to do.”
Washington state is the second largest U.S. wine producer after California. The industry’s economic impact in Washington was estimated at $8.6 billion in 2011, according to the state wine commission.
Farmers have been harvesting a record crop each year, reaching 227,000 tons last year, up 8 percent from 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Washington remains a relatively young player in the international wine market, with the first grape-growing area acknowledged in 1983, said Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission. However, the industry has continued to see steady growth, especially in recent years.
And Washington wines already have received international acclaim. Last year was the sixth consecutive year where Washington had the highest percentage of exceptionally rated wines of any growing region as rated by Wine Spectator, Warner said.
The Wine Science Center puts the Tri-Cities on the worldwide map. University of California Davis draws international visitors and Baseler thinks the local facility will see the same level of interest, he said.
The newly dedicated center already has welcomed international guests. The state wine commission recently visited with about 50 buyers and writers from 11 different countries, Warner said.
Students will start taking classes in the new building this fall. They will get a chance to use the automated wine fermentation system in the two-story research winery at the core of Richland’s Wine Science Center, under the supervision of faculty and staff.
Donations by the wine industry and a collaboration between the industry, WSU and the community have made the research and teaching center possible.
The Washington State Wine Commission provided $7.4 million to jump-start the project, and numerous individual wineries and vineyards kicked in money.
The 2012 Legislature put in $5 million and the U.S. Economic Development Administration provided $2 million. The Port of Benton provided land near the current branch campus off George Washington Way, and the city of Richland added administrative support. Cypress Semiconductor Corp. of San Jose, Calif., and Spokane Industries provided $3.2 million in-kind donations for the fermentation system and the system’s 192 sealed stainless steel wine vessels.
Lydig Construction and ALSC Architects, both of Spokane, designed and built the 40,000-square-foot facility.
Keith Moo-Young, WSU Tri-Cities chancellor, expects to see ground-breaking research come out of work done at the Wine Science Center, he said. That research will help the wine industry continue to grow and contribute to the local and state economy.
Thomas Henick-Kling, WSU viticulture and enology program director, said he and others at WSU already have been working on plans for the research they will be able to do now that the center and its high-tech equipment are available.