By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Washington's top wine company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates of Woodinville, has given another $1 million toward a new Washington State University Wine Science Center in Richland.

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle and chair of the WSU Board of Regents, announced the pledge at the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, Feb. 8.

"In Italy every region has its own institute in wine research and viticulture. With this wine center, we will be able to attract wine research dollars," Baseler said. "If Missouri can get $5 million in federal wine research, we should be able to."

Washington ranks second among the states in wine production behind California. Missouri is about ninth.

St. Michelle has committed to more than half of the $7.4 million the industry is raising toward the center in assessments on grape tonnage and gallons of wine produced. The $1 million is in addition to that, Baseler said. St. Michelle makes more than 60 percent of the wine produced in the state.

The $23.3 million center will be built next to the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland. Construction may start next year. The center will house 30 WSU faculty dedicated to wine industry research and education.

Speaking after Baseler, WSU President Elson Floyd said the center will take Washington's wine industry to the next level in global competition.

"With your dedication and resolve we will move past UC Davis," Floyd said in noting the California university's high position in agricultural research.

Floyd said when he arrived at WSU in 2007 he found an institution trying to be all things to all people and that he determined "we would do everything we could for the agricultural sector because that is what is going to sustain the state now and into the future."

He noted state leaders often think of aviation and technology when they think of the state's industrial might, but that growers are lifeblood of a more than $3 billion agricultural industry that will turn the economy around.

WSU has been cut 52 percent in state revenue in the past four years, a drop of $241 million, that's being filled by unsustainable annual tuition increases, Floyd said. Higher education has dropped from 9 percent of the state budget in 1991 to 3 percent in 2011, he said, urging growers to tell their legislators that trend needs to be reversed.

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