State funding pours into Wine Research Center in Richland

RICHLAND -- Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling knows a new Wine Research Center is still about two years away at WSU Tri-Cities. But he's already excited about what it will mean.

"Laboratories, office space, some classroom space. We also need a research winery."

After a big boost this week from Governor Chris Gregoire, who pledged 5 million dollars to build the Center in Richland, those amenities are that much closer to reality.

"It's really about good business for Washington," says Henick-Kling.

Assistant Professor Bhaskar Bondada agrees. "We are here, not just to teach the students, but also to help the industry, in terms of solving practical problems."

The funding will mean a state-of-the-art learning complex for students, as well as a teaching vineyard, regional and international wine library, and greenhouses.

The state's investment is growing proof that Washington wine is big business. And both professors say its the science behind wine that makes the industry successful.

"For example, how water stress or trellis systems will affect the quality of the wine," says Bondada. "A degree in viticulture or enology, people think it's an easy thing. But the fact is, it's absolutely based on the scientific principles. The grape production aspects, and also the wine making."

"You can only make Washington wine in Washington," says Henick-Kling. And that's a good thing. It creates jobs in this area, mostly in grape production, and wine production, and it also creates jobs in tourism and the restaurant business."

And the new Wine Research Center will be just another factor in the equation.

The building itself will cost about 15-million dollars. Another 8 million is needed for equipment. The university has been fund-raising for several years. And says the state money is now enough to, hopefully, start construction next fall.