Surprise ending on unconventional path to winemaking

By Sarah Appel, CAHNRS Academic Programs

Chris West had no idea he had been nominated for a WSU President’s Award for Leadership until he got a surprising email. His hard work in the classroom and efforts in extracurricular activities had not gone unnoticed, and he was shocked when he received the email saying so. Later, he was surprised to learn he had received the honor.

West stands behind a large vat full of grapes, holding a long cylinder in one hand and pours grape juice into it with the other.
Chris West building his knowledge of winemaking.

West is a graduating senior with a major in Viticulture and Enology. He is one of nine College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) students who received Presidents Awards this year. After a non-traditional path, West’s hard work and commitment to WSU and the Viticulture and Enology program were celebrated by the accomplishment.

Unconventional Beginnings

West arrived at WSU at 35 years old after serving 10 years in the military. It had been 18 years since he had stepped foot in a college classroom, but he was certain of his interest in wine making. He had visited wineries throughout California while stationed there and wanted to pursue this newfound passion. He quickly fell in love with not only the wine but the culture surrounding it as well. He packed up and decided to go back to school.

“That’s what inspired me,” West said. “I just loved talking about wine, I loved drinking wine, trying new wines, but I think mostly it was the social aspect of wine drinking.”

He was hesitant about going back to school, worried about the age-gap between him and his classmates, and doubts about his ability to perform academically. After being out of a classroom for so long, he was not sure if he would be able to adjust.

“I’m a non-traditional student and coming back to school was a big culture shock for me,” West said. “I didn’t know how to study, I didn’t know how to take notes. The first year was unpleasant just trying to get back into a mentality where I need to continue to produce effective results.”

He found a circle of friends who quickly accepted him. He developed the skill of asking questions when he needed help in classes and created a routine of visiting professors every three weeks. Through hard work and determination, West was able to reteach himself how to succeed in the classroom, which seeped into other parts of his life as well.

Outside the Classroom

When he arrived at WSU, West knew he wanted to get involved on campus. He stopped at the Daily Evergreen table while wandering the All-Campus Picnic in 2017 and shared his interest in writing. He was a certified professional wine taster and he was excited to illustrate the drinking culture in Pullman.

West stands with arms crossed in the stands at a football game.
Chris West at a WSU football game.

West then found the Viticulture and Enology club but was disappointed at the lack of action. While he enjoyed talking about wine, he wanted to make wine, he wanted to experience it. So, when he was elected president of the club, he did exactly that.

He arranged tours and trips throughout the eastern side of the state to visit countless wineries. His proudest moment, however, was the first wine the club ever made: 69 cases of a German Riesling sold at Merry Cellars.

Finally, West served as a CAHNRS Ambassador during his junior year where he was able to share his passion for learning and fun with the students and parents he encountered.

A Surprise Ending

Despite all the incredible work he did over the past four years, West was still very surprised to receive an email announcing his nomination. He had never done anything for the awards, he had simply done them because that is what he loved to do.

“I was so proud of myself that I called my parents,” says West. “And I said ‘Mom, you’re not going to believe this. I got nominated for a President’s Award.’ “

He was able to take a moment and reflect after receiving the email. He filled out the application to the best of his abilities and looked back over the last four years. He thought his work had gone unnoticed, but found that wasn’t the case.

“It was really flattering that I’ve made such a great name for myself that people feel that they can speak for me,” West said. “That’s humbling because I didn’t know I made that good of an impression on the people who I work with and learn from.”

West is humbled at the recognition of the influential people in his life and is grateful for the roles his professors and peers have played in his life.

Overall, West has had an incredible time at WSU and intends to someday return to the area. He dreams of pursuing a career in running a barrel program while being a cellar master and winemaker. Until then, he will remain humbly grateful for his time here at university while he enjoys a glass of 2015 Pepperidge Cabernet Franc with his friends.