WSU makes transferring easy for wine, viticulture students

By on May 28, 2014
The Wine Science Center will be built at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, Wash.

This is an artist’s rendering of the Wine Science Center that will be built at Washington State University’s Tri-City campus in Richland. (Courtesy of WSU)

Winemaking and vineyard students studying in the Walla Walla and Yakima valleys now have the choice of moving on to get a four-year degree.

Washington State University announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Walla Walla Community College and Yakima Valley Community College to allow students to transfer to WSU after earning a two-year Associate of Arts degree.

“This agreement creates an ideal framework for students to transition seamlessly into WSU’s viticulture and enology program,” said Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville. “The Washington wine industry contributes $8 billion to the state’s economy, and a vital component for sustaining this success is the graduates who are trained to support our grape and wine industries.”

Baseler, a WSU grad and a member of its board of regents, also chairs the fundraising committee for the WSU Wine Science Center, which is under construction at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland.

Until now, it has been difficult for students in two-year wine programs to transfer to universities because the credits and courses do not always match up. The new transfer agreement between the two community colleges and the university simplifies the process.

Much of the work for the transfer agreement between Walla Walla Community College’s vaunted viticulture and enology program and WSU was put together by Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s V&E program, and Alan Busacca, former director at Walla Walla Community College. Busacca has since left the college after budget cuts forced his departure in late April.

Wine is big business in Washington

The Wahluke Slope in Washington state is one of the Columbia Valley's key grape-growing areas.

Washington’s wine industry is worth more than $8.6 billion per year to the state economy. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

A 2011 study showed the Washington wine industry contributes $8.6 billion annually to the state economy, up from $3 billion in 2006. At the time of the study, the industry was responsible for 27,000 jobs totaling $1.2 billion in annual wages. And wine also generates $238 million in state taxes annually.

In Benton County, where WSU’s Wine Science Center is being built, the wine industry contributes 5,200 jobs and nearly $43 million in taxes. Benton County is the state’s largest wine-producing region, thanks to such wineries as Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Hogue, Kiona, Barnard Griffin, Hedges and Pacific Rim and other large producers.

Thanks to more than 130 wineries in operation, Walla Walla County also is a big contributor, and a lot of that success is attributed to Walla Walla Community College. Myles Anderson launched its V&E program in 2000. Since that time, more than 4,000 people have taken at least one course there and about 450 students have earned two-year degrees or professional certificates. At least 30 of its graduates are winemakers or winery owners.

Anderson, who taught at the community college from 1977 to 2013 and also co-owns Walla Walla Vintners, said he designed the program with the wine industry in mind.

“Ours isn’t a wine science program,” he told Great Northwest Wine. “It’s a wine-ready program. We’re educating those with other degrees who have led other lives and now want to get into the wine industry.”

The program also is attracting young students who are attending college for the first time, and the transfer program will allow them to continue their education if they wish.

More options needed for winemaking students

walla walla community college

Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology & Viticulture. (Photo courtesy of Walla Walla Community College)

Victor Palencia, who is the head winemaker for Jones of Washington in Mattawa and owner of Palencia Wine Co. in Walla Walla, went through the program soon after graduating from high school a decade ago. His original plan was to ultimately earn a master’s degree.

“When I learned my credits wouldn’t be transferrable, I knew it was a longshot, so I pretty much took a different path with my education,” he told Great Northwest Wine. “The community college program was great, but I wanted to learn more.”

At one point, he even thought about pursuing further education at the University of California-Davis, which has long been the standard bearer for wine education in the United States.

“That was too far away, too expensive and too difficult for me to work out,” he said.

Jessica Gilmore, who now oversees Walla Walla’s wine program, praised the new transfer agreement.

“Students who start their educational career at WWCC are saving a significant amount of tuition money while taking advantage of our unique hands-on teaching approach and learning from instructors with a diverse perspective on industry,” she said. “The partnership with WSU provides students the opportunity to learn from both practitioners and researchers in their field while gaining the necessary skills to qualify for high-demand, high-paying jobs.”

Tim Donahue, who teaches winemaking at Walla Walla Community College and runs College Cellars, said the transfer agreement provides new opportunities, especially for younger students.

“It opens doors to those who want to work at Ste. Michelle or someplace that may require a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “They can come here and see if they like the wine industry.”

Wine Science Center focus of WSU program

WSU Wine Science Center construction

Jeff Stewart of Lydig Construction Co. in Spokane leads U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young on a tour Wednesday, April 16, 2014, through the construction site of the Wine Science Center on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

At the center of WSU’s burgeoning V&E program is the Wine Science Center, a $23 million structure being built for WSU by the city of Richland on land donated by the Port of Benton. The land is adjacent to the WSU Tri-Cities campus. While the state Legislature contributed $5 million to construction, all the rest of the funds have come from industry and private donations.

Construction on the Wine Science Center is breezing along and is expected to be largely complete in October and open in 2015. It will have labs, classrooms and a working winery. The Wine Science Center also will largely consolidate WSU’s V&E program, which currently is spread between campuses in Richland, Prosser and Pullman.

WSU said it also is working on transfer agreements with wine and agriculture programs at South Seattle Community College in West Seattle, Columbia Basin College in Pasco and Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books. He writes about wine for The Seattle Times. You can find him on Twitter and .

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