Australia's struggling National Wine Centre -- which was intended to be a central place for visitors to learn about and taste the country's wines -- has a new lease on life. The University of Adelaide has agreed to lease the museum and tasting gallery from the South Australian government for about US$614,000 for 40 years, and will use it to offer wine education programs.
The US$12.5 million center had experienced financial difficulties since it opened in Adelaide in October 2001, largely because visitor numbers fell far short of the predicted 180,000 a year. After a cash injection of nearly US$1.1 million from the South Australian government still did not put the center back on track, it was in danger of closing completely.
Having the university take over the center, "will position Adelaide as an international center for wine education, alongside Davis and Bordeaux," said Peter Rathjen, executive dean of the faculty of sciences.
The university, which moves into the wine center on July 1, will now be able to accommodate more than 200 students in its wine-sensory evaluation programs and to expand its wine and food-based courses.
However, the interactive exhibition spaces -- Growing Grapes, Making Wine and Tasting Wine -- will remain open to the general public. The entrance fee has been reduced from AU$11 to $8.50 to make the center accessible to more people. The exhibits will be expanded to cover the contributions of the University of Adelaide to Australian winemaking. Slated improvements include a café in the concourse, vastly increased parking facilities and closer links with wine industry organizations, such as the Winemakers' Federation of Australia and the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, both of which are located at the facility.
The center serves as a platform to build on the university's reputation for wine education and research, according to vice-chancellor James McWha. Wine education programs will be focused at the National Wine Centre, while the university's Waite campus will now be able to further develop its research facilities. Last year, more than 780 students, including 30 international students, were enrolled in the university's 20 wine-related courses at the undergraduate, post-graduate and doctoral levels.
The greater range of activities taking place at the center should benefit both consumers and the trade, according to Ian Sutton, chief of the Winemakers' Federation of Australia. "It is a great idea that the University of Adelaide will now run the National Wine Centre," he said. "It gives the center a future, and the educational focus adds great value."
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