RICHLAND, Wash. – During a two-day visit to Washington wine country, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was able to get an inside view of the present and future of the state wine industry.
On Tuesday, the four-term senator from Bothell toured the Railex facility, then on Wednesday walked through the construction site for the Wine Science Center on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities.
“It’s going to be incredible,” she told Great Northwest Wine while removing a hard hat after touring the Wine Science Center. “I remember meeting Walter Clore many years ago. He had a vision, and I think it’s a real tribute to him believing in that and getting a lot of other people to believe.”
Clore, a WSU scientist from the 1930s through the 1970s and later a viticultural consultant for Chateau Ste. Michelle, was known as the “father of the Washington wine industry.” He died in 2003.
The Wine Science Center is a $23 million facility that is being built by the city of Richland on land donated by the Port of Benton adjacent to the WSU Tri-Cities campus. Construction began last fall, and the bulk of the facility will be completed in early October, though not quite in time to crush grapes in its working winery. That will occur during harvest 2015, by which time winemaking classes and research labs will be fully operational.
Murray bullish on Washington wine future
Murray said she is bullish on the future of the Washington wine industry, which contributes $8.3 billion annually to the state’s economic bottom line.
“We are in an incredibly good spot,” she said. “We’ve grown just from a small group of folks who wanted to have a nice little industry to having a huge economic production for this region.”
She hailed Railex as a tremendous step forward in sharing Washington’s quality wines with the rest of the country. Railex is a company in Walla Walla County that uses trains to move produce around the nation. In 2013, it opened a $20 million facility that provides temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses for wine storage. It was built under contract with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
Railex uses temperature-controlled rail cars to move Ste. Michelle wines across the country nonstop in five days, a huge advantage that few other wine companies can provide. Railex has warehouse facilities in New York, California and Washington and will be opening a new facility this year in Florida.
Murray, 63, a Washington State University graduate, hopes this will help spread the word about Washington wine.
“When I travel, I always ask for Washington state wine,” she said. “I don’t care what it is on the wine list, I buy it. I don’t always find enough of it in Washington, D.C. It’s better than it was, but we still have a long ways to go.”
During her visit to WSU Tri-Cities, Murray met with a number of representatives from Washington agriculture industries for a brief roundtable discussion on how federal legislation is helping their constituents. They included Dick Boushey from the Washington State Wine Commission, Todd Newhouse from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, Mark Powers from the Northwest Horticultural Council, Todd Fryhover from the Washington Apple Commission, Jim McFerson from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Gary Grove from WSU Prosser and Bill Howell from the Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute.
The discussion focused on the Farm Bill, immigration reform, agricultural research and the importance of the Clean Plant Center.