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Research Winery, Cougs in Industry

Posted by | October 2, 2008

WSU Opens Research Winery

Top: Ringer (L) and Harbertson designed the new research winery in order to address questions of concern to the Washington wine industry. Middle: Harbertson plucks grapes for later chemical analysis. Bottom: Harbertson empties a box of chardonnary grapes into a press, starting the first batch of white wine in the new research winery.

Top: Ringer (L) and Harbertson designed the new research winery in order to address questions of concern to the Washington wine industry. Middle: Harbertson plucks grapes for later chemical analysis. Bottom: Harbertson empties a box of chardonnary grapes into a press, starting the first batch of white wine in the new research winery.

Washington State University now features the largest experimental, non-commercial winemaking facility in the Pacific Northwest.

The research winery, which is located at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, has a production capacity of about 5,000 gallons. The new facility was designed by enologists James Harbertson and Kerry Ringer, scientists in the WSU Department of Food Science. The facility will be used to conduct research in support of the region’s rapidly growing wine industry.

“We designed the winery for small-lot, research-scale production,” said Harbertson. The winery will produce multiple small lots of wines under controlled and reproducible conditions, said Harbertson and Ringer.

“We spent about six months designing the facility,” said Ringer. “We wanted to make sure that we had the capability to conduct the research the industry needs, so that meant ordering a lot of custom-made equipment.”

The experimental winery includes 73 stainless steel fermentation tanks that are temperature controllable. The tanks range from 26- to 260-gallon capacity. Temperature in the tanks is monitored and controlled by a Web-based system called TankNET.

With the new winemaking facility, Harbertson said, “there are lots of questions we can now address. But our main issues are pretty much all practical. How does one piece of equipment affect the winemaking process compared with another? And how do viticultural practices affect grape quality and, in turn, wine quality?”

The scientists wasted no time in getting winemaking research projects under way. WSU viticulturist Markus Keller and his team harvested chardonnay grapes from a research vineyard early in the morning of Oct. 1. Within a few hours, the first batch of grapes were pressed and left to settle over night. The next morning, yeast was added and a new series of winemaking experiments was under way.

In the next issue of Voice of the Vine, we’ll describe current winemaking research at WSU.

Cougs in Industry: Nikki Samaniego of Severino Cellars

They spend all year working toward harvest in Zillah’s blistering summer heat but, to WSU alumna Nikki Samaniego, it’s worth it. The 2000 graduate is doing what she loves: growing premium grapes and working in Washington’s prestigious wine industry as a partner in Severino Cellars.

Severino Cellars
WSU alumna Nikki Samaniego is a partner in Severino Cellars. Are you a Coug in the wine industry? If yes, we'd like to hear your story. Drop us a line at bcclark@wsu.edu.

“I enjoyed it all, I really did,” said Samaniego about her WSU experience. Coming from the small central Washington town of Zillah, Samaniego felt WSU fit her and her personality. She said she found it to be “a natural fit.”

In 2002, friends of her family opened Two Mountain Winery where Samaniego works part time, only three miles from Severino Cellars. She and her husband, Severino J. Samaniego, planted a 14-acre vineyard in 2005 and opened Severino Cellars together in 2007. The Samaniegos plan to expand their vineyard operation with an additional 15 acres adjacent to their current vineyard.

Although they have a small operation with a maximum of seven crew members and a 1,000-case per year production, Samaniego stressed the importance of science in the success of their business.

From the viticulture of vineyard management to the chemistry of winemaking, it’s all crucial to the desired end result, a premium Washington wine, said Samaniego.

Samaniego feels that passion is an important key to success in the wine industry. Along with early mornings picking out in the field, comes what Samaniego said she enjoys most, the interaction with people in the tasting room and pourings at wine retailers. Each person’s reaction to wine is different, she said, making her job unique and fun.

Samaniego’s family could not be happier about her family vineyard. “My sister’s only request is that I make enough for her!” said Samaniego.

By Patia Eaton, Marketing and News Services Intern