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Wine pioneer honored for contributions to WSU and wine industry

Posted by | July 20, 2016

By Dennis Farrell, Student Writer

The Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center and the Nagel family held a fundraising event on June 24 to name the center’s microbiology lab after a giant of the Washington wine industry, Charles “Chas” Nagel. Nagel worked with other Washington wine pioneers like Walter Clore, George Carter and Ray Folwell to prove that fine wine could be produced and marketed here.


Dr. Charles "Chas" Nagel
Dr. Charles “Chas” Nagel

Nagel’s first graduate student, and later colleague, Joe Powers said Nagel was very active with research and was not the type of professor to just sit at his desk.

“He wore a lab coat every day because he was in the lab every day,” Powers said. “He just loved to do the science.”

Often, Nagel collaborated with Clore, and the two played a major role in the birth and growth of the wine industry in Washington. Powers said Clore heard about Nagel’s fermentation background and asked Nagel to make and evaluate the wines from the grapes Clore had been growing at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

Nagel also created consumer taste panels at WSU to look at the sensory properties of the wine, a study that went on for several years. He worked with Clore and Carter on what became known as the Wine Project.

“They showed that you can grow grapes successfully in Washington and make good wine,” Powers said. “That opened the door to the wine industry that’s grown from a handful of wineries to over 900.”

Work with Industry

Washington winemaker Rob Griffin, co-owner of Barnard Griffin winery, said Nagel was always available as a helpful resource and was like every winemaker’s uncle: a wise figure from whom they could get intelligent feedback on ideas and issues.

“This was before the internet and there weren’t many libraries that had this information, so somebody who knew where to look for information was hugely vital,” Griffin said.

Honors and Awards

Nagel received several awards and honors from both the wine and food industries during his lifetime, including being named both a fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists and a supreme knight of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine.

He was also the first American to teach at the University of Bordeaux in France, according to his son Rob Nagel.

Modesty and Values

Once, Nagel was watching television with his son Rob when a wine commercial for a wine came on. Rob asked if the wine was any good, and Nagel’s response was lukewarm.

“I found out years later that he created that wine for a winery that was in California and it was being advertised nationally,” Rob Nagel said. “And he just described it as ‘Ehh, it’s okay.’”

Through his work consulting with the young wineries starting out, Rob Nagel said his father would sometimes charge for consulting but was often happy to simply answer questions.

Nagel passed away in 2007 at the age of 80 and is survived by his wife Bea; his daughters Kathy Deuel, Trish Niehl and Liza Nagel; and his two sons Rob and William.

The money raised at the event will go towards naming the microbiology lab after Nagel. Rob Nagel said he wishes his dad could see the Wine Science Center.

“I think he’d be enamored and proud,” Rob Nagel said. “And I think he’d love to work both in the winery and in the chemistry and microbiology labs.”

To support the WSU Viticulture and Enology with a gift in honor of Dr. Nagel, please contact the Director of Development for Wine Science, Casey Fox at 509-372-7445 or