Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

WSU puts students in middle of wine making, growing grapes

By RACHAL PINKERTON
Staff Writer

TRI-CITIES – Where do potential grape growers and winemakers learn their craft? Washington State University offers several different options.

“We study and teach the whole thing from where to grow grapes, how to grow grapes, how to make wine, the whole thing,” said Thomas Henick-Kling, director of the viticultural and ecology program at WSU. “You could call the whole thing wine science.”

WSU offers undergraduate, graduate and online certificate programs in viticulture, the study of growing grapes, and enology, the study of making wine. They also have a research program and offer extension services.

Unlike some schools, WSU pairs both viticulture and enology into one course of study.

“We, the faculty, think they should be combined,” Henick-Kling said.

Students all get the same core classes. For those wanting to specialize in one area over another, they can choose more individualized study with their elective choices.

During the first two years of undergraduate work, students can choose whether they want to study in Pullman or the Tri-Cities. Up till now, students have been able to finish their last four years in Pullman as well. This coming fall, that will change. During the last two years of study, students will only attend classes in the Tri-Cities.

In June of 2015, WSU opened a Wine Science Center. The facility has both research and classroom facilities. Students typically do internships at local wineries and vineyards during their last two years of study. The Tri-Cities location provides students with a wide range of learning opportunities.

“It is great that WSU has a campus in the middle of a major wine growing area,” Henick-Kling said. “It is the perfect locale. All students can take advantage of these new facilities. The primary thing is being right where the industry is. It benefits the students immensely. They either do an internship or have a part-time or full-time job in the industry. That’s not possible when they’re studying in Pullman. It’s too far away.”

During their course of study, students learn about the different grape varieties that grow in Washington state, the juice and wine they produce and the different ways that can be blended. They also learn how to plant vineyards, how to care for the soil, the physiology of the plants and what requirements that grape vines have in order to produce high-quality fruit. Diseases, pests, bacteria and viruses that harm the fruit are studied, as well as how to manage them.

When it comes to making wine, students learn when is the best time to pick, how to pick grapes, how to make decisions when making wine and how wineries operate. They also learn how to taste wine and describe the flavors. Henick-Kling said that while it is easy to like wine, describing the taste is a learned skill.

“You have to be able to put words to it,” Henick-Kling said. “If you make wine, you need to be able to communicate that with not only your fellow workers but with customers.”

When asked what students like the most in the program, Henick-Kling said he thinks it is the making of the wine. One of the classes offered teaches students how to blend different wines together. Students are given an opportunity to make a wine of their choice. The students research how to make the wine, where to find the grapes and what equipment they will need. They then partner with different wineries to bring their wine into reality. If the wine is good, some of the wineries will bottle small samples and sell them.

“I think it is a fun learning project,” Henick-Kling said.

WSU started doing viticultural research in the 1930s at the research center in Prosser. In the 1960s, extension work in this area was started.

The undergraduate degree program was started in 2004. Today, approximately 135 students are in the program. Before the undergraduate program began, there had been a few graduate students. Today, the graduate program has between 25 and 30 students.

WSU also offers an online program or certificate that is a shortened version of the undergraduate degree. The certificate is for those who already have an undergraduate degree and want the background and theory of winemaking and grape growing. It is also a good introduction to those wanting to start a new career or business.

“The online program is unique,” Henick-Kling said. “It includes three weekends with hands-on process in the winery or vineyard. They also get to meet their cohort.”
Currently, the online program has approximately 130 students.

WSU partners with two-year colleges — Walla Walla, Yakima, Seattle and Wenatchee community colleges — that offer wine studies and gives those students an opportunity to transfer and complete a degree. The two-year colleges allow students to stay in their local area while deciding if they want to continue their learning in the wine industry. If they do, they are able to transfer to WSU.

WSU is the only university in Washington that offers the viticulture and enology degree. It is also one of only a handful of universities that offers a four-year degree. Henick-Kling said that University of California-Davis is the only program in the country that is comparable to WSU in terms of research and extension services.

“UC-Davis has a great program, but they are not located conveniently and conducively as we are in Washington,” Henick-Kling said. “It is similar with Cornell. They have their programs off-site.”

Henick-Kling said he thinks that one of WSU’s strengths is that their facility members are all active in research.

“They don’t just teach from a book,” Henick-Kling said. “They teach from their experience and everyday work. It gives students the opportunity for research internships and to see how research is done. It can lead to an MA. It offers a lot of opportunities for students that want to learn a bit more.”

WSU also offers a major in wine business management.

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@basinbusinessjournal.com.

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