WSU wine science center pushing ahead

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Mathew Crowell, pump operator, watches Dave Rust and Roy Palomarez pour footing for WSU Wine Science Center in Richland, Wash., Feb. 5. They worked in freezing temperatures. Completion is set for late summer.

RICHLAND, Wash. — After weeks of pouring concrete for the new Washington State University Wine Science Center in moderate winter temperatures, sometimes in the 50s, crews are keeping it flowing in freezing weather.

“We’re able to keep pouring because we keep the sub-grade ground heated the night before and heat the concrete,” Jeff Stewart, project superintendent for Lydig Construction Inc., Spokane, explained at the construction site Feb. 5.

It was 9 degrees at 7 a.m., he said, but following cold-weather procedures the pour of footings began at 9 a.m. when it was about 14. The day’s high was 23.

A few hours later and a few miles away at Kennewick’s Three Rivers Convention Center, David Forsyth, winemaker at Zirkle Wine Co., Prosser, gave an update on the wine science center at the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. The meeting is billed as the second largest for the U.S. wine industry, following one in California.

Groundbreaking of the $23 million center occurred Sept. 26 at the WSU Richland campus and construction is “still more or less on target” to finish by late July or August, Forsyth said. Research equipment will be installed in the fall and student classes will begin in the spring of 2015 with a grand opening anticipated in May 2015, he said.

The center will further Washington’s regional and global wine industry prominence and will add to WSU wine grape research being done in Pullman and Prosser, Forsyth said. It will be one of the most technologically advanced wine research centers in the world, “piggy backing” on work at the University of California-Davis, he said.

“We will train the best winemakers and viticulturists through bachelors, masters and doctorates,” he said.

The facility will include research labs, classrooms, a library and a research winery with crush and storage capability. A focal point will be the entry and foyer of curved steel and glass, fashioned to look like part of a wine barrel.

During Forsyth’s presentation, Patsy J. Mercer, representing the Mercer family and Mercer Canyons Inc., was honored for a $250,000 donation to build the Bud Mercer Greenhouse at the center in memory of her late husband, Milton “Bud” Mercer, Jr. Fruits and vegetables are grown at Mercer Canyons, the family ranch in the Horse Heaven Hills south of Prosser, and Mercer Estates Winery is in Prosser.

“Bud would be so pleased. He helped with so many things. When something came up that he thought was worth doing, he went all the way,” Patsy Mercer said. “He was a very humble man but he wanted the best to happen.”

Forsyth announced that T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, San Jose, will provide 192 wireless fermentation units, worth $4.5 million, for the center.

Grower, private and state and federal money makes up $19 million of the $23 million for the new center so far with $4 million remaining to be raised, Forsyth said.

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