Wine students marked by industry experience

By Julia Layland, CAHNRS Academic Programs

A word of caution for those interested: a possible result of a hands-on major with access to internships is purple hands. WSU Viticulture and Enology student Megan Meharg experienced this grape juice staining directly.

A woman rides an ATV past a vineyard.
Megan Meharg while working as an intern at Vintage Vineyard this summer.

“My most exciting semester was my junior year, Fall 2020, because I was working at my hometown winery and was involved in the 2020 Vintage where my hands turned very purple,” Megan said. 

The WSU wine program encompasses education, research, and outreach, with degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level for viticulture and enology and wine business management.

“I didn’t start in Viticulture & Enology. I came to WSU for Pre-Veterinary Sciences, but after taking an animal science course, I found out quickly that wasn’t the place for me,” Megan said. “I switched over to V&E where I fell in love with the combination of biology, chemistry, business, communications, etc. All these things combine to prepare students for the workplace.”

She has enjoyed the versatility and opportunities within the program and within WSU’s College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).

Fellow V&E major and CAHNRS Ambassador, Jordan Culpepper, explained her experiences as a first-generation college student when discussing the program. She worked as a Viticulture Tech Intern for Constellation Brands.

“I was surprised by how cohesive the industry is, and I got to play an integral role in grape harvest for a large company,” Jordan said. “I came to WSU as a first-generation college student and had no clue what to expect. I grew into a new lifestyle, made awesome friends, and truly had a great time. I was able to build better self-confidence while excelling at the things I love to do. It’s hands-on, it’s diverse, and you meet amazing people along the away.”

Internships provide part of the hands-on aspect to the development of skills and insight into the industry.

The WSU Tri-Cities campus is essential to the V&E program due to the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center located on campus and its close proximity to much of the Washington wine industry. Both Megan and Jordan transferred to the WSU Tri-Cities campus during their senior year, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. While the move can be a large hurdle for students, they felt it was worth the added stress.

“WSU Tri-Cities gives many opportunities for students to get internships and research to familiarize themselves with equipment and all the processes that go into vineyard management and winemaking,” Megan said. “Students should be prepared to move over to the Tri-Cities when entering the program. It sounds scary, but it’s not! It truly is the best place to jumpstart your career before graduating.”

Jordan echoed those suggestions.

“Eastern Washington is the heart of the winemaking and grape growing industry and living here has provided me more opportunities for professional growth. The campus is close-knit, and the V&E professors here are phenomenal,” Jordan said.

Megan, the 2021 Wine Spectator Wine Student of the Year, intends to intern internationally after graduation. Purple hands will keep happening around the world.

“After working my way through college and with three internships under my belt, I feel very prepared to enter the workforce,” Megan said. “After graduation I’m planning on interning for a few months at different wineries in California, Italy, and New Zealand until I’m ready to go back to graduate school.”