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New fermentation system expands WSU winemaking research

RICHLAND, Wash. – Winemaking research at Washington State University just got a turbo boost.

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. and Spokane Industries have teamed up to help bring one of the most technologically advanced wine fermentation systems in the world to the Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities, with a generous contribution of $3.2 million toward the $5.3 million fermentation system.

In 2012, the Economic Development Administration provided a $2.06 million grant to bring the fermentation system to WSU. The grant requires a matching contribution, which has now been provided through the generous support of Cypress and Spokane Industries.

Wine Science Center fermentation system

Mark Holst (far left) and Neel Karkhanis (far right), Cypress Semiconductor Corp., setting up the new wine fermentation system with Washington State University staff Richard Larsen (middle left) and Philip Teller (middle right).

“This fermentation system will be a great benefit to the burgeoning wine industry in the Tri-Cities,” said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young. “WSU Tri-Cities enthusiastically supports the world-class Washington wine industry in the region and is thankful for the generous contribution from Cypress and Spokane Industries.”

Ron Mittelhammer, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, agrees.

“We are fortunate to be working alongside Washington’s world-class growers and winemakers, and this system brings an incredible technical capability to support teaching, research and extension critical to the industry,” Mittelhammer said.

Cypress, a global leader in semiconductor technologies, developed the proprietary, automated wine fermentation system, which is only the second of its kind (the other is at the University of California Davis). Additionally, Cypress provided 384 60-liter and 20-liter stainless steel research tanks, one press, a tank tipper, and other necessary equipment to make the system complete.

“We want our state-of-the-art research equipment to be at the most important enology and viticulture schools,” said T.J. Rodgers, Cypress president. “In California, that means U.C. Davis. In Washington, that means Washington State.”

A major wine vessel supplier to the Washington wine industry, Spokane Industries has partnered with Cypress to bring this system to WSU and generously provided 192 custom-made stainless steel wine vessels to the Wine Science Center.

“Spokane Industries has the honor of having been a partner in the Washington wine industry for over 30 years,” said Greg Tenold, president of Spokane Industries. “It is truly our pleasure to be able to make this gift to WSU. We are fully supportive of the mission of the Wine Science Center to provide a state-of-the-art facility to spark innovation in the field of wine-focused research.”

The fermentation system is a series of 192 211-liter (52-gallon) sealed stainless steel wine vessels connected by an advanced monitoring system.

Each jacketed vessel can be heated or cooled, enabling precise temperature control. A control panel directs a sugar meter, three temperature sensors for continuous monitoring, and an automated pump that mixes the fermenting wine regularly.

Temperature and sugar data are transmitted wirelessly to a central computer, allowing the winemaker to track multiple fermentation vessels simultaneously.

Spokane Industries highly polished the interiors of the wine vessels to food-grade quality to prevent solids from sticking to them when emptied. This makes for quick cleanout requiring fewer sanitizers and less water, which reduces water consumption and wastewater costs.

“This cutting-edge fermentation system advances WSU winemaking research by leaps and bounds,” said Thomas Henick-Kling, director of the WSU wine science program. “It also offers the unique potential for close collaboration with UC Davis because they use the same system.”

Eight fermentation units were set up at the WSU Irrigated Agricultural Research and Experiment Center in Prosser last fall. The winemaking team received training from Cypress representatives and has conducted three experiments.

The fermentation units in Prosser will be moved to the Wine Science Center in Richland this spring as the rest of the system is installed.

The new fermentation system will be completed by May 2015. The Wine Science Center grand opening is scheduled for early June.

The $3.2 million contribution from Cypress and Spokane Industries is a part of The Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas, which will continue through June 30, 2015, to benefit WSU students, faculty, research and extension programs, and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.

For more photos of the fermentation system, please see the album on the Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities Facebook page.

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Contact: Erika Holmes, WSU viticulture and enology communications, 509-372-7223

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