By Rachel Webber, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
RICHLAND, Wash. – Pour a glass from the tall green bottle labeled Blended Learning and out comes not only a unique wine but the story of Washington State University students finding opportunity and education.
The riesling is the first in a series of student-made wines planned from the WSU viticulture and enology program. The new tradition of blended learning is bringing together students, alumni, winemakers, growers and wine enthusiasts to uncork the possibilities.
Robb Zimmel was a LifeFlight paramedic in Portland, Ore., when he discovered an interest in fermentation science. In his final year at WSU, he describes his favorite part of winemaking:
“It’s that pinnacle moment,” he says. “After the grapes have been crushed, the soak is done, the yeast is ready and you’re waiting to see if the fermentation will take off like a freight train or be sluggish. From that point forward, the birth of your wine begins.”
Zimmel and five fellow students began planning the first WSU student-made wine in spring 2012. They were mentored by program director Thomas Henick-Kling and professor Bhaskar Bondada. They worked with Charlie Hoppes at Fidelitas winery in Richland and the winemaking team at Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Wash.
They chose grape varieties, harvested, crushed, barreled and, in summer 2013, bottled the finished product. With Noir Designs they developed a marketable label. They released 100 cases in fall 2013 and made the wine available at the WSU Visitor’s Center in Pullman, Wash., and WSU Connections in Seattle.
Student winemakers Dane Day and Joe Perez are part of the riesling project and also are working on two cabernet sauvignon wines at Barnard Griffin winery in Richland.
“The ability to ask questions and soak up knowledge on a regular basis is fantastic,” says Perez, who is pursuing an education in wine after serving in the Marine Corps. “What we are learning in the wineries is also what we are learning in classes. The two work in concert.”
Les Walker graduated from WSU in 1984 with a degree in geology and returned to WSU Tri-Cities two years ago. He joined Jeff Thompson, a Navy veteran who decided to study agriculture, and fellow student Dave Balsz to harvest chenin blanc and barbera grapes in the fall. It will be ready to bottle in the spring.
The student winemakers will then discuss the label design and take the next steps in marketing their product.
Learn more about viticulture and enology at WSU at http://wine.wsu.edu.
Subscribe to WSU’s monthly wine science e-newsletter, Voice of the Vine, here.