Unlike many students, Jared Grace came to college with a clear idea of what he wanted to study and never looked back. Now the Los Angeles native is about to enter his senior year as a viticulture and enology (V&E) major at Washington State University.
“I read a book in middle school about grape varieties,” Grace said. “For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a grape farmer. Then I began learning about fermentation and the various aspects of winemaking. By high school, I knew this was the career path for me.”
At the beginning of the past spring semester, Grace launched a wine pairing column that typically runs twice per week in WSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Evergreen.
“I wanted to do something connected to my career path,” said Grace, an illustrator and photographer for the newspaper. “I started the column because I felt like I could do more to further my experience and knowledge while sharing that with others.”
Dubbed “Sipping with Grace,” the column serves a dual purpose: helping its author learn more about what foods pair well with specific wines while solidifying his writing voice. The column hasn’t gone unnoticed by winemakers, who sometimes contact him to compare tasting notes and pairings.
Grace uses a wine pairing app as a starting point, noting feedback from other users while thinking about what foods could theoretically pair well with whatever grape variety is in that week’s bottles. He stresses that the columns aren’t reviews. Rather, they’re meant to help readers find a good match.
“My goal is to figure out what would pair well with a wine to make it taste even better to someone who already likes it,” he said.
There have been a few failed pairings, but also a few surprises.
“I always thought you should pair opposites — like an acidic cabernet with a rich cut of beef,” he said. “I started to realize it can go the other way — you can pair like with like. That was neat to learn.”
After months of taste testing, Grace has gained a new appreciation for wines he thought he didn’t like.
“Being able to find my own niche in wine through the columns was really fun,” Grace said. “My preferences are a lot broader than I thought. This experience taught me so much about my tastes and what I’m looking for when I have a glass of wine.”
He hopes to take the column abroad this summer during a trip to Europe, with a corresponding wine pairing planned for every city he and his fiancée visit.
Grace is also enrolled in the first of a series of courses for those interested in becoming certified sommeliers. Through the class, offered via the Napa Valley Wine Academy, he has furthered his knowledge of subtleties like flavor, taste, and mouthfeel.
Grace will leave Pullman, Wash., this summer to complete his final year in the V&E program at the WSU Tri-Cities campus. He plans to gain industry experience through an internship as a cellar hand at a local winery.
“I’m excited to move there and immerse myself in the hands-on aspects of my major,” said Grace, who was recently elected as vice president of the Coug Wine Society. “I’m looking forward to interacting with other V&E majors and hearing about their experiences. The region is also a good jumping off place to establish a career after I graduate. There are many WSU alums in the winemaking industry, and lots of people to talk to. That’s so valuable.”