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Monday, Mar. 05, 2012

Senate budget includes money for WSU wine center

OLYMPIA -- Construction for Washington State University's Wine Science Center could begin in 2013 if lawmakers pass the Senate capital budget proposal that would provide $5 million for the project.

Gary Ballew, economic development manager for the city of Richland, told the Herald the $5 million grant would go toward the $15 million construction cost. It will be built on land donated by the Port of Benton, next to Washington State University Tri-Cities.

The university will invest $8 million in equipment, bringing the total cost of the project to $23 million, Ballew said.

Once built, the university will use the center for research and education.

"Folks have a certain image of a winery. This is different," Ballew said.

Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU's viticulture and enology program, told the Herald that the public will be able to tour the center. However, they will see laboratories rather than a commercial winery.

The center will complement 30 acres of WSU vineyards in Prosser, providing a laboratory for the physiology, chemistry and microbiology relating to winemaking, Henick-Kling said.

Henick-Kling described the viticulture program as a statewide collaboration among industry, WSU faculty and students.

Last month, the state's grape growers and winemakers announced plans to donate $7.4 million to the project. An additional $1 million will come from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Washington's largest wine company.

Ballew said the project will help push grape research and develop winemaking talent.

"If you're going to continue growing the industry, this is what you're going to need," he said.

The center also will provide classroom and office space for the WSU Tri-Cities bachelor's degree program in viticulture and enology, which the campus has offered for three years.

Four full-time faculty members teach 20 undergraduate students in the program at the Richland campus. Washington State University has 33 graduate and 120 two-year distance-degree certificate students in its program across the state.

For those who would like Cougar wine with their Cougar Gold cheese, Henick-Kling said the school plans to create a small amount of wine made by WSU students.

The wines will be the product of student-led projects, he said. Students will plan the entire winemaking process, and perhaps market the wines, too.

State funding for the project won't be official until the Senate and House approve Senate Bill 6074 -- the proposed Senate 2012 supplemental capital budget. That bill received its second public hearing Wednesday.

"If the $5 million sticks, we'll definitely be starting building come spring 2013," Ballew said.

* Eric Francavilla, aN intern from Washington State University, can be reached at eric.francavilla@email.wsu.edu.