RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University’s new Wine Science Center will bear the name of the state’s largest and oldest wine producer.
This afternoon, WSU unveiled the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center adjacent to the university’s Tri-City campus in the heart of Washington wine country.
“For more than 25 years, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has supported the WSU wine program with its own contributions as well as shepherding support from others,” said Elson Floyd, WSU president. “In recognition of its outstanding commitment and contributions, I am pleased to announce the center will be named the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center.”
At Thursday afternoon’s grand opening, Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, announced the company is giving his alma mater $500,000 to complete the fundraising for the $23 million facility that includes space for education, research and winemaking.
The Wine Science Center was built through the cooperation of several agencies and organizations. Because of the way state universities’ capital projects work, the Wine Science Center likely would not have been built for 15 to 20 years if it went through the normal system.
However, the Port of Benton donated land next to the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland, then the city of Richland formed a development authority to handle the actual construction of the 40,000-square-foot building. Once it was completed, the land and building were handed over to the university.
Baseler was chairman of the fundraising committee. After the state wine grape growers and wineries pledged more than $7 million toward the Wine Science Center, donations began to come quickly, either in the form of cash or equipment. The state Legislature pledged nearly $5 million, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration provided more than $2 million. Even a California company donated oak barrels to the cause.
Thomas Henick-Kling was hired in 2009 to run the university’s viticulture and enology program and has overseen the building of the Wine Science Center from its inception. He has worked in university wine programs at Charles Sturt University in Australia and Cornell University in New York.
Henick-Kling was pleased that the building will carry Ste. Michelle’s name in the title.
“They’ve been central to this industry for so long,” he told Great Northwest Wine. “They’ve been great partners. They’re fantastic. It’s great to recognize them in this way.”
Now he looks forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.
“It’s wonderful to see this opening and see people start working in here.”
Wine industry, WSU have long history
WSU’s connection to the Washington wine industry goes back decades. In 1941, researcher Walter Clore planted premium wine grapes at the university’s irrigation research station north of Prosser, which launched his association with helping the wine industry grow. In the 1960s, WSU began working with farmers throughout Eastern Washington to expand the wine grape industry and later began making experimental wine.
Upon his retirement in 1976, Clore – known as “the father of Washington wine” – retired and promptly began working with Chateau Ste. Michelle as a consultant, a role he played until his death in 2003.
Throughout the years, Ste. Michelle has conducted its own research as well as worked with WSU scientists on such subjects as clean plant material, irrigation and more. The company began in 1934, not long after Prohibition was repealed. It began using the name “Ste. Michelle” in 1967 and changed the name of its winery to Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1976 when a grand French-style manor was built in the sleepy King County community of Woodinville.
Today, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates uses two out of every three grapes grown in Washington and owns such wineries as Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, Michelle Sparkling Wines, Snoqualmie Vineyards, Northstar, Spring Valley, Two Vines and Seven Falls. It co-owns Col Solare on Red Mountain with the Antinori family of Italy, and it also partners with famed German winemaker Ernst Loosen on Eroica, a premium Riesling. It recently announced a partnership with two top French winemakers on Tenet Wines, which focuses on Syrah and other red Rhône varieties.
Clore’s connection with the company is deep. Baseler noted that Ste. Michelle planted a vineyard in Paterson, Wash., on Clore’s advice before planting thousands of acres in the Horse Heaven Hills. He also suggested planting Cold Creek Vineyard north of Sunnyside, which now is one of the company’s most prized vineyards.
“We worked with Walter very closely,” Baseler said. “He was a meaningful part of the growth of our company.”
WSU suggested adding Ste. Michelle’s name
Baseler told Great Northwest Wine that the idea of naming the Wine Science Center for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates came from Floyd.
“We’re incredibly honored and somewhat surprised,” he said. “That wasn’t why we worked so hard to raise the money. It’s a nice cherry on the sundae to have that work recognized by the university.”
Baseler noted that Ste. Michelle provided funding for the university’s “Distinguished Professor in Viticulture” in 2004. Markus Keller, a horticulturist, was that year’s honoree.
Baseler said Floyd approached him a few months ago to discuss honoring Ste. Michelle in the name.
“It wasn’t something we were requesting,” he said. “That makes it even more special.”
Baseler said the Wine Science Center will not only benefit Washington’s wine industry, but also the university.
“I think this is going to be a real steeple of excellence for WSU,” he said. “It will distinguish it in the highly crowded research arena. It’s going to provide an international spotlight on the university. Growers and vintners will reap the fine work that’s done there in terms of research and educating future leaders in our industry. It’s hard to estimate the pure value of having specific research and teaching for the Washington wine industry. We’re going to see big contributions in the way of quality and vineyard yield that are quite meaningful financially.”
Baseler will mark his 31st year with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in August. He became president and chief operating officer in 2000 and chief executive officer in 2001. Baseler grew up in Oregon and graduated from WSU in 1976 with a degree in communications and plans to get into advertising. He went to Northwestern University to earn a master’s degree.