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WSU’s Voice of the Vine – Students Winemakers, Red Finish – Feb. 28, 2013

Posted by | February 28, 2013

WSU V&E Club Members Make Wine to Fund Education and Work Experience Opportunities

1. The Bootstrap Paradox

Call it the Bootstrap Paradox. To get the job, you need experience. You have no real-world experience, so you won’t get hired—but how will you get experience unless you get the job? Everyone new to the employment market faces this conundrum.

The WSU Pullman Viticulture and Enology Club. L-R: Abby Houser, Erin Ghigleri, Brodie Edwards, Riley Miller, Brent Roberts, Pirom Phadoemchit, Peter Virtue, John Hockersmith, Joe Sperry, Will Reed, Joe Imholz, Colton Smith, Garret Stahl, Henry Thompson
The WSU Pullman Viticulture and Enology Club. L-R: Abby Houser, Erin Ghigleri, Brodie Edwards, Riley Miller, Brent Roberts, Pirom Phadoemchit, Peter Virtue, John Hockersmith, Joe Sperry, Will Reed, Joe Imholz, Colton Smith, Garret Stahl, Henry Thompson

Students in the Pullman branch of the WSU Viticulture and Enology Club seized the real-world–experience bull by the horns. Club member Peter Virtue had a little previous winemaking experience—and was determined to get more. His fellow club members also had little or no experience but were eager to put their classroom learning to the test with real grapes in a real winery.

Enter Patrick Merry, alumnus of WSU’s professional enology certificate program, long-time mentor of aspiring Cougar winemakers, and the winemaker at Merry Cellars in Pullman. Merry offered the students the use of his production facility to make their own wine, and mentored them with his expertise.

Riley Miller, V&E Club president, said that, in addition to Merry, WSU viticulture and enology program director Thomas Henick-Kling also provided them with valuable guidance and mentorship. Virtue agreed and added, “A lot of what we accomplished was made possible by the fact that Patrick Merry has really strong relationships with people in the industry.”

What was accomplished was the making of seven barrels of Syrah and a half-barrel of rosé made from Syrah fruit. The rosé, bottled under the Merry Cellars label, will be for sale at an upcoming Mom’s Weekend wine tasting hosted by the WSU V&E Club. That annual event is the club’s main fundraiser. In the past, the group has raised money to fund field trips to Washington wine country – but this year, their plan is more ambitious.

“We are trying to raise money to fund an internship abroad for a club member,” said Club Vice President Pirom Phadoemchit. Miller and Virtue nodded agreement, and Virtue added, “Even a thousand bucks can make the difference in being able to buy a plane ticket to get to Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, France – wherever internships are available.”

2. The Entrepreneurs

Peter Virtue came to WSU after a couple years of liberal arts education at a theological seminary. “I also did a stint in the Marine Corps,” the mild-mannered 30-year-old said. He said he wanted to study viticulture and enology at WSU in part because the V&E Club was so active.

Syrah grapes
Syrah grapes

The making of the V&E Club Syrah is a saga of entrepreneurial bootstrapping. As Miller put it, “Peter knew what to say to get fruit, glass, barrels, yeast—pretty much everything in this wine was donated to the club.”

Let’s add it up: 3.5 tons of high quality Washington fruit; eight oak barrels; 180 cases of wine bottles; and the fermentation organisms (both yeast and malolactic bacteria). That’s a lot of generosity, and it’s that kind of help that everyone who gets into the Washington wine industry comments on. As Virtue put it, “I don’t think this could have happened anywhere else. It is hard to imagine industry professionals [in other wine regions] helping out students like this. There are so many Cougs in the Washington industry, and Extension is so well developed, that a lot of people appreciate and want to help fledgling efforts like ours.”

Phadoemchit said, “It’s a growing industry and we think people also see us as future employees… or bosses!”

Miller said that, although the Syrah-making project was not technically an internship, he learned a lot. “I found it fascinating to go in each week to taste the wine. It would be different each time and it’s been great to see it develop. And it’s fantastic to put what we study in class into practice like this.”

With a dreamy glint in his eye, Virtue said he would love to make wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape – but then, who wouldn’t? Step one: learn French. “Every morning I get up and do a lesson in Rosetta Stone.” Step two: learn to make wine; check that one off.

“I want to hemisphere hop!” said the Singaporean Phadoemchit, referring to the fact that it’s possible to work harvest and crush in the northern hemisphere and then start all over in the southern realms. “I love to travel and would love to see the world from its vineyards.” Phadoemchit may get his wish: he’s been accepted as an intern at Domaine Thibault in France’s famed Burgundy region.

Riley mentioned paying off student loans as a post-graduation goal, and all three had to laugh ruefully. But he, too, is interested in learning about the wines of the world. “Wine is made differently in every region, so it would be satisfying to experience that.”

To taste the fruits of the club’s efforts, come to the Mom’s Weekend Wine Tasting on Saturday afternoon, April 13. The V&E Club will be offering barrel tastes of their Syrah, bottle sales of the scholarship-funding rosé, as well as tastings and auctions of a wide variety of top-shelf Washington wines. And where did the club get the wines they’ll be pouring and auctioning to fund future club activities?

“All donated,” said Virtue.

The students in the Pullman branch of the WSU Viticulture and Enology Club gratefully acknowledge the generosity of the following organizations and companies:

Alder Ridge Vineyard and Winemakers, LLC; Barrel Builders, Inc.; Kosta Browne Winery; ReCoop Barrels; Verallia; Scott Laboratories, Inc.; Seven Hills Vineyard; and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Give to V&E Experiential Learning Fund at Thank you for your generosity.

Learn more about the Pullman branch of the V&E Club on their website at

Learn more about WSU’s educational opportunities in wine science (including professional certificate programs, as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees) at

-Brian Clark

Mom’s Weekend Wine Tasting Helps Fund Wine Science Education at WSU

The Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Club is hosting its annual wine tasting April 13, 1 – 6 p.m. in the atrium of the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education (the “CUE”). In addition to offering pours of premium Washington wines, there will be a silent auction and a raffle.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the V&E Club, said club member Peter Virtue. “We want to raise funds for the club so that our members can participate in educational events and field trips, and to help fund scholarships for WSU students interested in studying wine science abroad. This event also helps us raise awareness of the Pacific Northwest’s first four-year, science-based educational program in viticulture and enology.”

The wine tasting is organized by club members, who also staff it and solicit donations. “This year, we are pouring wines from Northstar, Kestrel, Kiona, Thurston Wolfe, Januik, and more,” Virtue said.

The silent auction features bottles from those wineries and others, including Woodward Canyon, Abeja, L’Ecole No. 41, and Long Shadows, said Virtue. “We’ve also got a raffle. Prizes include gift certificates from local artisan shops and restaurants and free tasting coupons from wineries.”

One of the highlights of the event will be a barrel tasting of WSU V&E student-made Syrah, and a pouring of a rosé, both made from grapes donated by Seven Hills Vineyard and Alder Ridge. The rosé will also be for sale, and proceeds from its sale will fund a club scholarship to help one of its members with travel expenses incurred as part of an internship.

A ticket for the tasting event is $10, or $15 for tasting plus a souvenir WSU V&E Club wine glass. The students will also be selling WSU V&E club apparel, such as polos and t-shirts.

Learn more about the club by visiting its website at

-Brian Clark

Bell pepper, floral, and coconut notes in reds

After spending a summer in the wine hills of northern California, Allison Baker decided to take wine tasting to the next level and study the sensory science behind a sip of Syrah.

Allison Baker at work in a wine sensory lab at WSU.
Allison Baker at work in a wine sensory lab at WSU.

As a graduate student in the WSU/UI School of Food Science, she focuses on sensory analysis–combining experimental design with statistical analysis to evaluate consumer products. Specifically, she’s looking at wine finish, the lingering aroma and taste after swallowing red wine.

“Wine finish is important because it is tied to quality,” Baker said. “There are several common beliefs about finish, as related to quality, that haven’t necessarily been scientifically proven, so winemakers would benefit from this kind of information as they make decisions about how to process their wines.”

One notion associated with red wines, for example, is that they have a complex berry fragrance and flavorful tannins, she said. Tannins don’t have a flavor, per se, but can taste bitter and are definitely astringent, one contributor to what sensory analysts call ‘mouth feel.’ In her work, Baker is experimenting with flavor standards such as 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (bell pepper), phenylethanol (floral), and oak lactone (coconut) to see how they interact with ethanol (alcohol) and tannins.

“With tannins you expect astringency and with ethanol you expect bitterness,” she said. “What is still unknown is, besides their obvious sensory qualities, how the wine matrix components affect the flavors and how they finish. Mainly we wanted to look at the effect of ethanol on the finish of each flavor, the effect of tannins on each flavor, and also the interaction between ethanol and tannins.”

Canoe Ridge Winery in Walla Walla used reverse osmosis to create a wine that contained 3 percent alcohol and donated it for Baker’s trials. Baker spiked the wine with food grade alcohol to 10 and 16 percent and mixed in the tannins and flavors. Ten panelists were trained to recognize the different components of the wine and used a computer program to record their perception of each.

Baker found, overall, floral notes finished earlier than coconut or bell pepper. She also found the impact of ethanol had a more significant impact than tannin on panelists’ taste buds. Meanwhile, the more alcohol she added, the longer panelists could taste the coconut and floral flavors. The duration of bell pepper, however, was not affected as alcohol increased.

In low concentrations, bell pepper has been said to contribute to the character of wine, while in high concentrations it is considered a defect. Carolyn Ross, a sensory analyst at WSU and Baker’s adviser, said they plan to take wine from the trials and use a consumer panel to further evaluate the finish in Baker’s wines.

“Later, we will have a consumer panel evaluate these wine finishes to see how much the consumers like the finish,” Ross said. “For example, if there is a bell pepper flavor that finishes later, we want to know how that contributes to their experience with the wine.”

A poster summarizing Baker and Ross’ research (funded by three scholarships from Washington Wine Industry Foundation, one from WSU, and a grant from Rhone Rangers) thus far was presented at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers meeting in early February. As Baker moves toward graduation, she’s certain she wants to continue on as a sensory analyst.

“Wine sensory studies have a science component, but it’s also really about food and the consumer,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see how products get from point A to point B and how their sensory properties contribute to whether they end up successful on the shelf.”

Learn more about research in the School of Food Science at

-Rachel Webber