Mercer family donates $250K to Wine Science Center in Richland

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 5, 2014 

Grape Growers Convention 2014

Robert Rivera, left, vineyard manager for Goose Ridge Vinyards in Benton City, and Becca Bailey, enologist for Zirkle Wine Company in Prosser, participate in Wednesday's Grand Tasting session at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers Annual Meeting and Convention in Kennewick.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— The family of a pioneering Mid-Columbia wine grape grower has donated $250,000 for the Wine Science Center under construction at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

The facility's greenhouse will be named for the late Milton “Bud” Mercer Jr.

Mercer’s wife, Patsy J. Mercer, with the rest of the family and Mercer Canyons Inc., announced the gift Wednesday during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers conference in Kennewick.

The center will play a vital role in serving the Northwest wine industry, she said. Her husband, who died in 2010, was passionate about supporting innovation and ideas.

About $4 million is still needed to pay for construction and equipment, but the latest donation will go far, university officials said.

“It’s a big one that moves us way ahead,” Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program, told the Herald.

The $23 million, 40,000-square-foot technologically advanced facility is scheduled to open in 2015. Construction began in the fall.

The center is intended to educate and train workers for the wine industry while also conducting research on the challenges facing Northwest wine grape growers and winemakers.

Bud Mercer, in partnership with the Hogue family, branched into the wine industry as he transformed his family’s sheep-herding business into a diverse irrigated farming operation, covering thousands of acres in the Horse Heaven Hills.

He also helped bring about the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser and is in the Mid-Columbia Hall of Fame.

“Bud was a great leader, businessman, husband and family man,” Patsy Mercer said. “He invested his time, effort and resources to support people, ideas and opportunities he believed would make a difference to the industry and to our community.”

Wine has since become one the fastest growing aspects of the agricultural industry in the Mid-Columbia, with several distinct growing areas and about 200 wineries in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

The center’s research facilities will include two separate greenhouses attached to a headhouse — a work space for transplants and potting. It will be near the science center and serve WSU’s viticulture and enology program.

The Mercer family’s donation is among the largest the center has received since two California-based wineries donated $250,000 in September. Without the Mercers’ contribution, construction of the greenhouse would have been stalled, Henick-Kling said.

“That would have been unfortunate,” he said.

Henick-Kling said he is optimistic they will raise the final $4 million to complete the center. “If we can make steps like this, we will finish quickly,” he said.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.

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