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Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Altria Invest in WSU Wine Science

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington’s wine industry will become even more competitive and continue to grow as an economic driver for the state, thanks to a $1 million investment from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and its parent company, Altria Group, Inc., to support wine science programs at Washington State University.

The grant, which was announced Wednesday at the 2012 annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, will support the Washington State University Viticulture and Enology program, particularly the research efforts that drive innovations and technology to ensure Washington wines remain economically, competitive, environmentally sustainable and of distinct, premium quality.

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and chair of the WSU Board of Regents, said research and education are key ingredients to success in the international wine market.

“Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany – no great wine region in the world succeeds without the support of a strong research university,” he said. “This gift supports the Washington wine industry’s premier research university and aligns with our companies’ focus on investing in high-impact educational programs. The strength of the programs reinforces the need for expanded facilities, such as the Wine Science Center in Richland.”

The investment by Ste. Michelle and Altria follows a $7.4 million commitment by the Washington wine industry for construction of the Wine Science Center.

WSU President Elson S. Floyd said the gift, which adds to the $1 billion Campaign for Washington State University, will help WSU viticulture and enology scientists make a dramatic difference for the state’s wine industry from vineyard to glass.

“Washington’s wine industry has said it wants to triple its economic impact at the state and national level to $10 billion, employ more than 57,000 people statewide, and increase the number of wine tourists in Washington from approximately two million to five million,” Floyd said. “This investment aligns perfectly with these goals, and WSU is uniquely positioned to help address the trained personnel shortage and research challenges the industry faces.”

This investment will support the teaching, research and extension functions of the wine science program, including a new technology transfer model to expedite delivery of research and technology to producers across the state. Using this model, broadly relevant research questions will be identified, and WSU technology transfer specialists will work with industry to set up valid experimental designs in their vineyard or winery, collect and analyze data and present this data with recommendations back to industry members.

Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program, called the investment “a key commitment to filling the gaps we currently have in the program, and build our technology transfer capability to more quickly impact the success of the industry.”

“We’ll be able to do more of the research work in the winery and vineyards,” he added. “The growers will be able to see what works and use it.”

Another key component of the gift supporting research is a start-up package for the new analytical or “aroma” chemist WSU is hiring this year.

“The current lack of this expertise prevents complete analysis of the impact of various grape growing and wine making practices on wine flavor,” Henick-Kling said. “While state funds have been prioritized for this position’s salary and benefits, this support for the start-up package accelerates our ability to fill the position as soon as possible.”

The gift also will provide bridge support for the director of viticulture and enology, help fund a student challenge grant to build awareness of scholarship and graduate fellowship needs in the program, and provide for the development and implementation of a comprehensive marketing plan for WSU’s viticulture and enology programs to complement marketing efforts of Washington’s wine industry and WSU.

More information about the WSU Campaign for Wine is available at


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Kari Leitch, Vice President of Communications, (425) 415-3673