WSU students release ‘Blended Label’ wines after hands-on experience in vineyard and winery

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The state-of-the-art Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center opened June 4, 2015, in Tri-Cities, the heart of Washington wine country. One of the most technologically advanced wine science centers in the world, the new center supports the unparalleled growth of Washington’s wine industry.

Washington wine is big business. According to a new study by Washington State Wine, the wine industry had a total economic impact of $4.8 billion in business revenues in 2013, up from $3.5 billion in 2009. Washington is the second-largest premium wine producer in the United States, with more than 800 wineries and 11 federally designated American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs.

Washington State University is a leader in agricultural research and education, with a prestigious viticulture and enology program that offers the only wine business management undergraduate degree in the country and the only four-year bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology in the Pacific Northwest. WSU’s Wine Science Center includes research labs and classrooms, a research and teaching winery, a two-acre vineyard, and greenhouses to train the winemakers of tomorrow.

Growing the next generation of winemakers
The Research and Teaching Vineyard offers students hands-on experience in a vineyard. The wine grape varietals grown there, which include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, merlot, riesling and syrah, are the responsibility of the students and their instructors. Both are quickly seeing the fruits of their labors.

Blended Learning, from classroom to vineyard
WSU Viticulture and Enology students’ learning extends from the classroom to the vineyard. They recently released the second in a series of student-made wines under the label “Blended Learning.”

“We call it that because we are blending classroom learning with real world wine making,” says program director (and one of the world’s premier wine scientists) Thomas Henick-Kling. In partnership with commercial vineyards and wineries, students are deeply involved in all stages of the process, from monitoring grape ripening and harvesting through crush, fermentation, barreling and the final blend decision, even partnering with a design firm to develop the bottle label.

(Washington State University)
(Washington State University)

The students’ first wine release, a 2012 dry riesling, received an excellent rating from Great Northwest Wine, an online platform covering wine reviews and news, and sold out almost immediately. The red blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, received an excellent rating at Winefest Northwest. A limited quantity of 100 cases is selling briskly, at $35 a bottle, at the WSU Connections store in Seattle and the WSU Visitor’s Center in Pullman. All proceeds go back into the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program, directly benefiting student learning and research projects.

Sustaining the future of Washington wine

WSU’s breakthrough research strengthens our region’s exploding wine industry and economic vitality.

In the labs and research winery and vineyard, scientists find science-based solutions to problems in growing grapes and making wine, and increase local vineyards’ profitability by discovering new ways to keep soils healthy and to protect and nurture plants. They conduct research on everything from tannins and grape-leaf roll to yeast viability and deficit irrigation in vineyards.

A recent research project about how maceration times and irrigation rates can affect the color, taste and mouthfeel of Washington state cabernet sauvignon, won 2014 Best Enology Paper from the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture for outstanding content and substantial contribution to the winemaking field. The study was a partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle, which donated four tons of cabernet sauvignon grapes annually from their Cold Creek Vineyard in Mattawa.

“This groundbreaking experiment was a noteworthy example of industry and academic cooperation,” says James Harbertson, WSU associate professor of enology. The Washington wine industry and WSU’s educational program continue to overlap, creating continuing real-world learning opportunities that shepherd talented young winemakers from class to glass.

Learn more about how Washington State University researchers untangle complex problems to enrich quality of life for us all.