WSU alumna returns to her alma mater as V&E department’s newest winemaker

Closeup of Madelyn Calderon.
Madelyn Calderon

Madelyn Calderon grew up watching her dad make wine from cranberries and cherries. When he suggested that she might enjoy a career in winemaking, Calderon took note, as she was drawn to a field that involved science and working outside.

Now, as the newest winemaker in Washington State University’s Department of Viticulture & Enology (V&E), she’s living out her passion.

“This is a great role, and I’m honored they picked me for it,” said Calderon, who is based at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center on the WSU Tri-Cities campus. “I can tell that everyone is really excited to have me here, and it feels amazing to have their support. I love being surrounded by the important work that’s taking place.”

As a WSU alumna, Calderon’s previous experience making wine and conducting research on campus has made the transition to her new position exceptionally smooth. 

“All of my former professors are now my bosses,” said Calderon, who graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology. “I know how they work, and I’m familiar with their research. Likewise, they saw my work as an undergraduate and trusted me in this position. It feels comfortable and natural to be back.”

Jim Harbertson, also Calderon’s main supervisor, is one such professor.

“I am very happy to welcome Maddy to lead the research winemaking team here at WSU,” he said. “She is an amazing addition to the team, and I am excited for the upcoming harvest.”

This year marks Calderon’s 10th working with wine. Her first job out of high school was at a Wisconsin winery; she then began a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business at the University of Minnesota while employed as a vineyard hand. During summer internships at wineries in Argentina and Chile, she learned the importance of communication.

“I was there very much on my own, and I had to learn how to find my place and make sure people could understand me despite the language barrier,” Calderon said. “Finding a way to communicate was very important, and it taught me a lot. If I couldn’t communicate, I couldn’t work.”

In 2017, after returning to the U.S. and learning about WSU’s V&E program, Calderon traded the Midwest for the Pacific Northwest, transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to finish her bachelor’s degree. During and after college, she continued to hone her winemaking skills in the Tri-Cities region, working at Tapteil Vineyard and Winery, completing a harvest lab internship at Hogue Cellars, and serving as an enologist at J. Bookwalter, among other similar roles.

“I saw big wineries, small wineries, the vineyard, and the lab,” Calderon said.

As WSU winemaker, Calderon is focused on quality control, collaborating with wine science faculty to create research wines for the classroom. She also helps undergrads with their Blended Learning wines and works closely with the department’s grad students to ensure they have what they need for their research in the vineyard and the winery. Her work supports the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences’ mission to create a Resilient Washington by building an adaptable workforce.

“I make sure nothing goes wrong with the fermentation, that the wine is aging well, and that it’s bottled in time for the students to do their experiments, including chemical and sensory analysis,” Calderon said.

Calderon enjoys many aspects of her new role, but she has especially appreciated getting to know each of the grad students and hearing about their research — an experience that may just motivate her to further her own wine science education someday.

“They’re all very passionate about what they’re studying, and their enthusiasm shows,” Calderon said. “My first week on the job, everyone was so excited to tell me everything they were working on. It’s fun and inspiring to be around that type of energy.”

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