As part of its commitment to crafting high-quality premium wines, Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates recently opened a research winery in Paterson, Washington, the first winery-sponsored research facility in Washington state.

Studies conducted by the Stimson Lane Research Winery will benefit the company's portfolio of individual wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Domaine Ste. Michelle and Snoqualmie, as well as other Washington state wineries not owned by the company.

The research winery will initially conduct vineyard research on such issues as irrigation management, pest management and vine spacing to determine how these and other viticultural practices influence wine quality.

According to Stimson Lane's director of research, Russell Smithyman, Ph.D., the research winery will further enhance Stimson Lane's ability to raise the bar on wine quality by enabling the company to base key decisions on sound scientific data.

"This is an extremely exciting venture for Stimson Lane," said Smithyman. "This facility will dramatically affect the techniques, methodology and decision making surrounding our vineyard management and winemaking practices. Launching our own research facility gives us immediate access to vital information and enables us to see the results firsthand."

Smithyman, who heads the new research winery, received two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree from Michigan State University and earned a doctorate in horticulture from Washington State University. Smithyman joined Stimson Lane in 1999 as a research viticulturist.

The 5,000-square-foot facility is designed to make wines in production-sized lots, avoiding the problems associated with small-lot winemaking. The research winery features eighteen 500-gallon, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks and two 3,000-gallon tanks. Many of the fermentation tanks feature floating lids, allowing research staff to analyze adjustable lot sizes of wine.

Currently, Smithyman and his staff are using twenty-four 1-ton fermentation tanks in their wine studies to simulate winemaking on a substantial scale. Most of the research takes place in an experimental room where the temperature and other room conditions are tightly controlled.

The first major study is a deficit irrigation experiment to determine the impact that irrigation management has on red grape character and wine quality -- a followup to a Washington State University study focusing on irrigation's influence on white grape varieties.

"The amount and timing of water applied to the vineyard controls how vigorously the vine grows and the character of the grapes it produces," said Smithyman. "This study will help determine the most efficient irrigation methods needed to produce the best results from our red grapes."

In addition, Stimson Lane will expand its research capabilities next year by adding a sensory lab. Stimson Lane owns 4,200 acres of prime vineyards in Washington and California. The company is headquartered at the historic Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, Washington, 15 miles northeast of Seattle.