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Alumni Meet Industry, Carter Is Legend, Auction of Washington Wines, Zino Forum

Posted by | August 2, 2012

New Winemaker Hits the Ground Running with WSU Online Enology Certificate Program

Dana Roberts
Dana Roberts

How does a liberal arts major, fresh out of college and with little wine experience, hit the ground running in the wine industry? By apprenticing with seasoned winemakers, by hiring consultants, and by taking Washington State University’s online enology certificate program, an experience that Westport Winery’s Dana Roberts described as enlightening and invaluable.

In 2007, Roberts enrolled in the WSU enology certificate program. Concurrently, he began an internship with a winery in Leavenworth, giving him both hands-on experience and a way to apply what he was learning in the online classroom. Within a few months, he was making wine at Westport Winery, Washington’s western-most winery.

“The certificate course allowed me to get a broad scope of knowledge across a wide variety of topics and really helped me get off the ground.”

Beyond the information in the course, Roberts found the online format to be valuable, allowing him to get the knowledge he needed when he needed it, and at the times convenient to his schedule. He found chemistry to be the most challenging part of the curriculum. But the expertise and helpfulness of the instructors piloted him through any difficulties. “The instructors are truly experts in all of their fields,” he said. “They were more than willing to share everything they knew about their particular topic.”

Dana singled out Jim Harbertson as his favorite. “He really is the wine guy. I read his articles in various publications to this day. He is a wonderful resource to have as a winemaker because he really is at the top of this field.”

Online forums helped Dana establish a sense of community with his peers also working through the certificate program. He enjoyed the variety of perspectives among his cohort, which ranged from individuals just starting as home winemakers, through industry professionals looking to put a stamp on their practical knowledge. Three times, this community left their online meeting place to convene at wine camp, a course requirement for certificate students to demonstrate their skills and view industry practices. In addition to applying their chemistry lessons at wine camp, they also visited bottling lines and toured wineries of varying sizes, to see how companies make wine at different scales of operation.

With Westport Winery now producing over 30 types of wine from Chardonnay and Riesling to Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and fruity dessert wines, Roberts has more wines than years. In gratitude to thier community of supporters, Westport donates a portion of the proceeds from each wine to support local charities, including charities with a WSU connection. Sales of Little Wild Blackberry Riesling benefit Grays Harbor and Pacific County Master Gardener programs. Bog Berry Blush features Gewürztraminer in a blend with cranberries to benefit the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Station and Museum. “We love Gewürztraminer,” Dana said of the blend. “We make more Gewürztraminer than anything else, and that will probably continue as long as we are operating.”

At Westport, their love of Gewürz and goal of continuously improving quality have borne fruit for the winery. Going Coastal, a sparkling Gewürztraminer, was bestowed a platinum award from Wine Press Northwest in 2011.

In just a few short years Roberts has moved from neophyte to eloquent spokesperson for the Washington wine industry. “When I think of Washington wine, I picture beautiful vineyards and beautiful country. I think of all the people that we work with. When people come into our tasting room, it’s always fun to see what they are excited about, and it’s that relationship with the people you meet that drives the Washington wine industry.”

–Bob Hoffmann

WSU’s online enology certificate is in high demand, and attendance is limited to ensure an optimal instructor/student ratio. Learn more about the online certificate at http://bit.ly/vecert. Those who don’t want the full certificate, or who want to study a specific area of winemaking, may purchase self-directed, non-credit courses at http://bit.ly/NmS6v8

Check out a short video featuring Westport Winery co-owner Kim Roberts talking about her family’s relationship with WSU, their community and the importance of entrepreneurship and giving. Westport Winery is known for its commitment to the community by being open daily and by donating a portion of the proceeds from each wine to support local charities: http://bit.ly/westportwineWestport Winery ships its wines to select states, so those wishing to support WSU programs by purchasing Little Wild Blackberry Riesling and Bog Berry Blush can order them online at http://westportwinery.org/shop/.

Freshly Minted Masters Students Now Busy Growing Some of the World’s Best Grapes

They came to the vineyards of eastern Washington from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Arizona. Although their backgrounds are as different as their home states, they now have twothings in common — a master’s degree in viticulture earned under the mentorship of Markus Keller, and a good job in their chosen fields.

“We’ve had great success in seeing our students take jobs in the viticulture industry,” said Keller, the WSU Chateau Ste. Michelle Distinguished Professor of Viticulture. “We barely have time to hand them their degrees before they are out the door to go work in vineyards all over the world.”

Laura Deyermond
Laura Deyermond

Andover, Massachusetts, native Laura Deyermond said, “I chose WSU because I wanted a new adventure outside of New England. I knew that I wanted to study viticulture on the West Coast and WSU had an up and coming program which was producing a lot of interesting and practical research.”

Well prepared for graduate study with a B.S. in Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences with a concentration in sustainable agriculture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Deyermond studied the consequences of irrigation on various pruning regimes effect grapevine growth and development. “Grapevines are not irrigated on the East Coast, so I wanted to gain a better understanding of grapevine physiology and how to gauge vine water status based on external symptoms.”

Richard Hoff
Richard Hoff

Coming to WSU with a B.S. in Horticulture from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, Richard Hoff studied berry shrivel, a ripening disorder that sometimes plagues grapes. “I mostly worked with Cabernet Sauvignon and studied a ripening disorder that begins at or after veraison and results in shriveled berries with low sugar concentration and low pH – making them extremely sour!”

“Arizona had some viticultural endeavors that piqued my curiosity, and that’s what ultimately brought me to WSU,” said Matt Halldorson. “After getting my B.S. in plant biology at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, I worked a few seasons for the U.S. Forest Service as a botanist and a firefighter. But I could never secure more than seasonal employment, so I decided to look at another area of plant biology for a career. I have always been interested in ethnobotany — the study of human/plant relations — and growing wine grapes is certainly one of the oldest forms of ethnobotany, so it seemed like it might be a good fit.”

Matt Halldorson
Matt Halldorson

Halldorson did his Master’s research on leafroll disease on Merlot grapes, studying how the disease can change drought tolerance and cold hardiness of the vines. “It was a great project that allowed me to learn about several important aspects of viticulture — pathology, water relations, and winter cultural practices among them,” he said. “And before I even graduated, I had an offer of an assistant viticulturist position with Wycoff Farms in Prosser. I am now working for them full time and the 2012 growing season is in full swing!”

Deyermond, the Massachusetts native, said, “Graduate school  gave me the confidence to trust my own instincts and the skills I need to continue learning. I am currently working as an assistant viticulturist for Jack Neal and Son, a vineyard management firm in the Napa Valley. It was my goal to be a Napa Valley viticulturist ever since I started working in vineyards on Long Island in New York.”

Richard Hoff said that his graduate studies gave him “a good foundation in the biology and chemistry of grapevines and the practical application of viticulture. This has prepared me well for my current position as a viticulturist with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, where I monitor over 5,000 acres of vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, and provide consulting and suggestions to growers under contract with our company.”

“The success of these students is indicative of how hungry the viticultural industry is for employees with strong science educations,” said Keller. “Being able to think critically and approach problem solving creatively go hand in hand with working through the challenges of a Master’s degree program. All of us involved in WSU’s viticultural research and education programs are proud of Laura, Richard, and Matt — and all our graduates. As we know, a great bottle of wine begins in the vineyard, so it makes me happy about the future greatness of the vineyards they are working in, and the fine wines that are sure to follow.”

–Brian Clark

WSU Research Winemaker Inducted into Washington Wine Hall of Fame

George Carter's partnership with Walter Clore and Chas Nagle revolutionized the Washington wine industry.
George Carter’s partnership with Walter Clore and Chas Nagle revolutionized the Washington wine industry.

WSU Research winemaker George Carter, who worked side-by-side with Washington viticultural pioneer and WSU horticulturist Walter Clore, is the 2012 inductee into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary will honor Carter during the Legends of Washington Wine gala slated for 6:30 p.m., Aug. 10, at the Clore Center in Prosser.

Carter graduated from UCLA in 1935 with a B.S. in chemistry and took graduate courses at both U.C. Berkeley and Washington State University. With his background as a chemist, Carter made wine from more than 100 grape varietals planted by Clore throughout the state.  Together, Carter and Clore transformed the state’s wine industry. They proved that grapes grown in Washington could produce world-class wines. Carter and Clore became fast friends and traveled together to some of the world’s best known wine and grape growing regions. When dining, they were known to ask for Washington wines and demand that they be added to the establishment’s wine list.

As part of his work and research, Carter developed a system for classifying American, European, and hybrid grape varietals. Carter retired in 1977.  In recognition of his wine making accomplishments, Carter was elevated to Supreme Knight in the International Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine.

A George and Susan Carter scholarship has been established with the Washington State Wine Industry Foundation that will provide yearly scholarships to individuals who pursue education in wine making or enology. For more information, go to  washingtonwinefoundation.org.

WSU at the Auction of Washington Wines

Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program, extends a personal invitation to all wine lovers to stop by WSU’s table at the Picnic & Barrel Auction at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The fun starts at 4 p.m. on Aug. 16. The Picnic & Barrel Auction features picnic games and activities on the grounds of the beautiful Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. Participants get the chance to rub elbows with Washington winemakers as they mingle among the crowd to pour tastings of their newest and oldest releases. Guests also enjoy bidding on some of Washington’s most coveted limited-release wines during the Barrel Auction, while enjoying gourmet picnic fare presented by the talented team of chefs from Tulalip Resort Casino. Click here to purchase tickets.

Your participation in both the Picnic and Barrel Auction and the Auction of Washington Wines Gala help support wine science research and education at WSU. The 25th anniversary Wine Gala will be held on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle and guests will enjoy a six course meal prepared by some of the area’s best chefs. Each table will be hosted by a Washington state winemaker, who will pair and pour wines from their collection. The evening will be filled with one-of-a-kind auction lots, various entertainment, and numerous industry guests. Learn more about, and purchase tickets for, the Auction of Washington Wines Gala here.

Liquid Assets: A Few Take Home Messages from the Annual ZINO Society Forum

If you want to make wine from Dick Boushey’s grapes, you better have skills. The venerable viticulturist grows some of the most sought-after fruit in the Pacific Northwest. When he is vetting a potential new customer for his grapes, he looks for experience, education, and ability. At the 2012 ZINO Vino Liquid Assets Forum in Seattle, Boushey said, “Yes, winemaking is an art, but there is a lot of science involved, too.”

The annual Liquid Assets Forum is one of many events hosted by the ZINO Society in the group’s effort to connect investors and wine industry entrepreneurs in order to expand Washington’s premium wine industry.

Efesté winemaker Brennon Leighton agreed with Boushey. Leighton said that you can run on common sense as long as things are going well. But when problems arise, as they inevitably do, a solid education in the sciences is what saves the day. “I have moments every day when the light bulb goes on and I draw on my education in plant physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. For example, to decide whether to filter or not, you have to understand the consequences of that and you only understand that with the foundation of science.” Leighton knows what he’s talking about, as the much-admired winemaker works only with wild fermentations. “I have to understand the biology of the critters I am working with — the organisms that do the initial and malolactic fermentations — in order to get them to do what I want,” he said.

The ZINO Society annually hosts a forum on the business of wine. This year’s all-day forum, held at the elegant Urban Enoteca in south Seattle, featured panels on marketing, social media, education, and the critical importance of the interplay between the science of wine and the art of crafting a story. Norm McKibben, a longtime viticulturist and partner in Pepper Bridge Winery, put the importance of the two in a nutshell: “you’ve got to have good grapes, you’ve got to make good wine — but the most important thing is you have to sell it.”

Greg Harrington, a partner in Seattle Magazine’s 2008 Winery of the Year, Grammercy Cellars, agreed. “Most of this business is getting on planes and getting in front of customers,” he said, emphasizing the idea that a winery needs a face and a story. “A winery is a restaurant in slow motion: it’s all about customer service and hospitality.”

Chris Figgins, second-generation winemaker and president of Figgins Family Wine Estates, which produces the highly sought-after Leonetti brand, said that with more than 700 hundred wineries in the state, you not only have to have a story, you have to have passion. Harrington added that focus is also critical. “We have too much flexibility in Washington,” he said. “We’re known for a couple of varieties, but it is too easy to make everything. But you only have 15 seconds to sell a sommelier.”

Greg Lill, a partner in DeLille Cellars, said, “You have to keep getting back on the plane. You have to be persistent in your marketing.” Boushey nodded and said, “Marketing, yes. But you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We can’t have an ’07 vintage every year. This is an agricultural product and people who don’t live close to agriculture sometimes forget that.” This observation inspired McKibben to add that “the wine is 80 percent made by the time it gets to the winery,” a variation on the idea that a great bottle of wine must be grown in a vineyard. Harrington said that to build a sustainable wine business, “anything that puts you in the vineyard as often as possible is crucial.”

Harrington confessed that his path was not one he would recommend to anyone hoping to get into the wine business. “Don’t do what I did. I rolled the dice. I had only been to Washington once” – he came west from New York City where he was a master sommelier to work crush with McKibben, and never went back – “and I didn’t know how to make wine.” The Washington wine industry is known for its educational opportunities, though, in both the formal sense of Washington State University’s science-based degree and certificate programs, as well as in a more informal sense in that growers and winemakers share knowledge and experience with one another.

Leighton of Efesté returned to that point by saying, “You’ve got to get an education, at a university but then go get trained by someone in the business.” Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s extensive viticulture and enology research and education programs, said, “You need to get dirty in the industry before you spend the money on a formal education.” He said that grape growing and winemaking are arduous jobs. Grape growers work under the hot sun, coaxing the development of phenolics and sugars, while winemakers spend a great deal of time hauling hoses and other heavy equipment. Chris Figgins said it well: “When things go well, you can run on intuition, but when things get weird you need the science.”

–Brian Clark

Washington State University offers a science-based Bachelor of Science degree program that prepares students for a career in the global wine industry. Learn more by visiting http://bit.ly/wsuwisciundergrad.

WSU also offers online education in viticulture and enology, with programs tailored for people looking to retool their careers. Investigate the online certificate programs at http://bit.ly/vecert.

Opportunities for graduate study in both viticulture, enology, and the business of wine abound at WSU. Begin your exploration of WSU’s world-class research programs in the science of wine at http://bit.ly/grad-wi-sci.

Learn more about WSU’s program in the business of wine by visiting http://bit.ly/wsuwinebiz.

The Seattle-based ZINO Society connects accredited investors with entrepreneurs seeking funding. To help facilitate successful angel investing for ZINO Society members and entrepreneurs, ZINO Society cultivates camaraderie in the world of business and wine with extraordinary people and experiences, crafting insider events, access to vintners, chefs and unique venues.  ZINO Society’s active investor network has invested  $20.5 million in angel financing to date and hosted over 500 presenting companies. Learn more at http://bit.ly/zinosociety.