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Tuesday, Sep. 30, 2008

Research winery opens in Prosser, Wash.

PROSSER, Wash. -- Another new winery has popped up in Prosser, but there is no tasting room and wine lovers won't be able to even steal a sip.

Most of the wine made at the new Washington State University Research Winery at the Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser eventually will end up being thrown away.

But the information researchers expect to obtain will benefit vintages yet to be bottled.

The production facility, which is capable of producing about 5,000 gallons of wine annually, is about science -- not sipping.

The $250,000 winery was designed by enologists James Harbertson and Kerry Ringer, scientists in the WSU Department of Food Science.

It will receive its first load of chardonnay grapes Wednesday and start research experiments looking at how different types of filtration affect wines' flavor.

"The perception among winemakers is that filtration removes the volatile compounds that give wine its flavor and nose," Harbertson said. "We want to find out if that's true or not."

Not filtering the wines can result in micro-organisms growing in the wine, causing odd odors and flavors.

The WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research Station has grown test vineyards for years and has created partnerships with several area wineries to help with research projects. But the new onsite winery allows the researchers to do projects that follow the grapes from vine to wine, Ringer said .

"We can look at how viticulture techniques impact the wine, and we'll also be able to use this facility as a teaching winery," she said.

The researchers said the winery will produce multiple small lots of wine under controlled and reproducible conditions, using 73 stainless steel fermentation tanks that are temperature controlled.

"There are lots of issues we can now address," Harbertson said. "But our main issues are pretty much all practical. How does one piece of equipment affect the winemaking process compared with another? And how do viticultural practices affect grape quality and in turn, wine quality?"

Dan Bernardo, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said the new facility will be a big benefit for Washington's wine industry.

"By conducting winemaking research at this level of detail, we're going to be able to support the state's premium wine industry in new and exciting ways."