You can taste students’ work through wines made at College Cellars. They are generally superb, earning gold medals at important international wine competitions and top marks from critics.
FOR THE PAST 15 years, Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture has been training the next generation of Washington winemakers.
While much of the learning takes place in the classroom, winemaking director Tim Donahue and viticulture instructor Jeff Popick give their students vital hands-on experience in the cellar and amid vines that will prepare them for the day they enter the world of professional winemaking.
To date, more than 4,000 people have taken wine classes at the college, and about 500 have graduated — many of whom are working in the wine industry.
Three to try
College Cellars 2014 riesling, Walla Walla Valley, $12: Aromas and flavors of mineral, green apple and white lavender turn this into a deliciously lean white wine with a rich midpalate and just a kiss of sweetness on the finish.
College Cellars 2013 Scholarship Red, Walla Walla Valley, $15: This Bordeaux-style blend uses grapes from the college’s estate vineyard. It is a bright, approachable red with aromas and flavors of red currant, cranberry, violet and a hint of sweet oak.
College Cellars 2012 Summit View cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $35: Summit View is one of the Walla Walla Valley’s top young vineyards, and this is a magnificent effort from its esteemed fruit. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, chocolate and black licorice are backed with bold tannins.
At the center of the state’s oldest and most successful wine program is College Cellars, the community college’s 7,000-square-foot working winery in the program’s facility not far from the Walla Walla Regional Airport. It’s here that students craft their first professional wines under their instructors’ watchful eyes.
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Donahue, a giant of a man who looks like he could easily fit into the world of professional wrestling, is a Colorado native who learned winemaking in Australia and New Zealand before landing in Walla Walla a half-decade ago. His first-year students work with the raw materials of their chosen trade: grapes, yeast and oak. And his second-year students take deeper dives into the art and science of winemaking.
Donahue, Popick and the rest of the program staff are far from alone in their quest to provide the best possible two-year education. They receive plenty of help from Walla Walla Valley vineyards and wineries, which provide much-needed internships and jobs.
Donahue makes sure his students work with the widest possible number of grape varieties and wine styles. At any given time, they might make 30 different wines, from dry whites to ice wines, from rich cabs to bold blends.
The resulting 3,500 cases of wines are bottled under the College Cellars label and sold through the tasting room and in retail shops. And they are generally superb, earning gold medals at important international wine competitions and top marks from critics.
Want to taste the delicious future of Washington wine? It’s all here at College Cellars.