The Washington Wine Commission’s commitment of $7.4 million towards the cost of building a Wine Science Center at Washington State University’s Tri-Cities campus gives the fundraising effort an important boost, says Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program.

The center will house WSU’s rapidly expanding viticulture and enology program. Currently, teaching and research activities in viticulture and enology are scattered between WSU’s Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses and the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser. WSU currently has 47 students who have declared majors in viticulture and enology, 20 of whom are in the Tri-Cities and the rest in Pullman, Henick-Kling said.

The estimated cost of the center is $23.25 million. Funds committed by the Wine Commission will be raised through assessments on grape and wine production for the next ten years or so. The grape assessment will increase from $10 to $12 a ton and the wine assessment from 6 to 8 cents a gallon, beginning with the 2011 crop.

The building will be situated on land donated by the Port of Benton and developed by a Public Development Authority created by the City of Richland. PDA board members were due to be selected by October. The next step will be to create a preliminary design for the three-story, 25,000-square-foot building.

Funds from the Wine Commission will be used to issue bonds to help finance the project. Henick-Kling said funding proposals have also been submitted to federal and state agencies. The commitment by the Wine Commission on behalf of the wine industry should make it easier to secure further funding, whether through grants or private donations, he said.

“They are all asking, ‘Is the wine industry behind this?’ and with this commitment, it’s easy to see they are.”

The new center will facilitate research tailored to the needs of the Washington industry, such as winter hardiness, increasing vineyard and winery productivity, and enhancing grape and wine quality.

“It’s the right place and the right thing to do,” Henick-Kling said. “We will find a way to make it happen—and hopefully soon—because we need the space and the resources to do the work for the industry.”

The Wine Science Center is the priority in a package of enhancements that WSU intends to make to its viticulture and enology program. The university hopes to raise $32 million through its Campaign for Wine. The additional funds would pay for two endowed professorships and help fund undergraduate and graduate students focusing on viticulture, enology, and business.

As of late August, individual donations totaled $1.5 million.