Not only will the Wine Science Center educate our next generation of winemakers and grape growers, but it also will serve as a hub for research.
IN A QUARTER-CENTURY, we will remember 2015 as among the most important moments in Washington wine history.
This is the year when momentum shifts, when focus sharpens, when everything becomes more serious. This is the year of the Wine Science Center.
The 40,000-square-foot facility opens this summer adjacent to the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in the heart of Washington wine country.
The fact the Wine Science Center was built is remarkable. That it came together so quickly is amazing. That it all happened in the midst of an intense economic downturn is miraculous.
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Throughout the modern wine industry — going back to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 — Washington has relied on others to educate its winemakers. Most of the time, this has been the University of California Davis, a legendary institution that became a foundation for the California wine industry.
But Washington is not California. The soil is different, the climate is different, and the issues we face are different. During the height of summer, the Columbia Valley gets two hours more sunshine per day than Napa and Sonoma. Virtually all of our vines are planted on their own roots, while all of California is grafted onto rootstock that is resistant to a terrible pest called phylloxera. We face occasional devastatingly cold winters. The way we irrigate is different.
It goes on and on.
It’s nobody’s fault that UC Davis can’t provide what Washington’s $10 billion wine industry needs; it has 570,000 acres of wine grapes and 90 percent of the American wine production to worry about in the Golden State.
This is why we need the Wine Science Center. When the first classes are taught here in August, Washington will be home to one the largest, highest-tech wine research and education facilities in the world.
All of this is thanks to an industry and a community that had the vision to make it happen.
Were it up to WSU’s normal system of building facilities, we might still be talking about the idea of the Wine Science Center a quarter-century from now. Instead, the state’s wineries and vineyards chipped in the first $7.4 million in 2011, which got funds rolling in at a stunning clip. It was built on land donated by the Port of Benton, fundraising was led by Ste. Michelle boss Ted Baseler, and construction was overseen by the city of Richland. It took creativity and flexibility to get this done.
Not only will the Wine Science Center educate our next generation of winemakers and grape growers, but it also will serve as a hub for research. Just the dream of the Wine Science Center attracted Thomas Henick-Kling, a world-class wine researcher, from Australia to be its director. Now that it is reality, it will bring together not only the best from the Washington wine industry, but also from around the world.
This is Washington’s moment to charge forward, to take its rightful place on the world wine stage.