Thank you all for coming. I especially want to thank Steve Burns and the Washington Wine Commission for bringing everyone together today, and the staff here at WSU's Prosser Facility for hosting us today.
In this room, we've gathered many of the leaders of Washington's wine industry. On your own, you have created something amazing.
First, you're created a reputation. Washington wines are known around the world. When I travel, people ask me about Microsoft and Boeing. Now they ask me about Washington wines.
Second, you've created jobs and economic development in every part of our state. And you've built an industry that is rapidly growing. It’s now a $2.4 billion industry. Wine production has more than doubled over the past decade. Wine grapes are now the state’s 4th largest fruit crop.
I'm holding this roundtable to hear about the challenges you're facing and to learn how I can be helpful. I want to learn how I can partner with you on research and education, infrastructure, legal issues, marketing and other challenges. When I’m working in a committee or on the Senate floor, I want to be able give some real examples of the people and the communities that are affected by our wine industry. Working together we can knock down the barriers that limit your growth.
Two years ago, I toured several vineyards. I had a chance to meet with Walter Clore. He told me no other politician had taken an interest in the wine industry. I heard about things that would be helpful and worked to fund them.
Since that tour two years ago, you've really grown. Today, our wine industry is larger and more mature. The number of wineries has grown from 208 in 2002 to 260 in 2004, and the number of acres has grown from 28,000 in 2002 to 30,000 in 2004.
But you also face new challenges and opportunities. I've also seen tremendous changes in the places I've lived. I grew up in Bothell, and my brothers, sisters and I used to ride our bikes through fields that today are part of Chateau Ste. Michelle.
In the early 1900s, my grandfather moved his family to the Tri-Cities to take a job with the Welch’s processing plant in Kennewick, Washington. Our family would take a trip to the Tri-Cities. I remember that after you crossed the mountains it was hot and dry especially in the back seat of an overcrowded car. Now when I drive that same route I see beautiful vineyards. Because of your work, the Tri-Cities has become one of our meccas of the wine industry. And I see that growth in many other places throughout our state.
Finally, I attended WSU, which has always had a great agriculture research program, and today my Alma Matter is the heart of our wine research efforts. This morning, I had a chance to see some of that work and was very impressed. So I've watched this industry that you've built grow up in my backyard whether it was where I grew up or spent my summers or attended college.
I'm always working to promote Washington state products. A few years ago, I hosted a reception in the Capitol Building for President Bush's State of the Union Address, and I made sure all the food and all the wine were from Washington state. Today, in the Senate Dining Room, Washington wines are on the menu.
For me, this is economic development. It's the same thing I do supporting roads or technology. To me, helping the Washington wine industry grow and stay healthy is part of my commitment to economic development all around our state.
Next, I'd like to turn to four things I've been working on to support our wine industry.
First, we need to protect what we have with healthy, disease and virus-free grapevines. In 2003, I worked to secure $150,000 in the USDA budget to help our researchers begin the process of creating a “motherblock” of clean rootstock. This year I worked to double that funding and hope to add even more next year. I want to help the industry and our researchers at USDA and WSU lay the foundation for a healthy industry for decades to come.
Second, we need to continue the other viticulture research we have in the Northwest. Overall, the budget Congress passed last January included $850,000 for viticulture research throughout the Northwest. Viticulture research has strong support from Northwest Members of Congress, and I’ll keep working to fund it.
Third, we need to expand our wine tourism industry in Washington state. That means looking for opportunities to build the infrastructure and other projects to help draw more people to our wine grape and wine regions. For example, I worked to secure $4.4 million for Highway 12 here in southeastern Washington. This road will help a number of economic development priorities in the region, including expansion of wine tourism. I also helped secure $250,000 to help begin construction of the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser. And I’ll be looking for other opportunities as well.
Fourth, we need to continue to help expand into foreign markets. For example, I worked hard to expand funding for USDA’s Market Access Program from $90 million to $200 million. MAP funding helps organizations like the Northwest Wine Promotion Coalition promote our Washington state products overseas.
So those are some of the priorities I've been working on to support you in the United States Senate. I want to make sure that I'm doing all I can and that means I need to stay up-to-date on the challenges and opportunities you're facing today.
I am committed to making sure you have the tools and support you need to keep doing what you're doing, and I appreciate all of you coming today to keep me up-to-date on how I can be helpful.
Let's open up the discussion so I can hear from all of you. We're going to discuss research and education, infrastructure, marketing challenges, and legal issues. So thank you for creating such a successful industry, and thank you for letting me be your partner and your advocate in the United States Senate.