Grape research, which dates back to the 1960s, has a circuitous history, with starts and stops in the early decades.
Dr. Wade Wolfe of Thurston Wolfe Winery, Prosser, Washington, has had a long and continued involvement with the state’s grape research since the late 1970s when he was part of an informal group called the Washington Wine Society that approached the state legislature for funding. He recalls that the founding members of the society included Bob Betz, Dr. Walter Clore, Max Benitz, and others.
In the 1960s, Clore and Dr. Chas Nagel, both Washington State University scientists, initiated wine research in the state, receiving funds from various state and federal sources and from the Washington Wine and Grape Growers Council, a volunteer industry group that no longer exists. Wolfe noted that some of the federal funds were from the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of efforts to encourage economic development in depressed rural areas. At the time, several states received such monies to research –potential for wine industries.
"After Clore’s and Nagel’s retirements, funds to support wine research dried up," Wolfe said.
That’s when Wolfe and the Washington Wine Society went to the state legislature to seek research funds. Senator Max Benitz headed the successful effort that resulted in legislation in 1981 providing for research funding through a 1/4 cent-per-liter tax on all wine sales in Washington, collected by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. WSU received $128,700 from the wine tax that year.
The legislation also identified an industry oversight committee for research to be made up of representatives of the Washington Wine Society. The society was later renamed the Wine Advisory Board (now called the Wine Advisory Committee). From 1982 to 1998, about a dozen industry volunteers made up the board. In 1998, the group was formalized as a subcommittee of the Washington Wine Commission, and since 2003, it has been chaired by a Wine Commission board member.