Home Industry News Economics Students Tour Winemaking Facilities at WSU Tri‑Cities campus

Students Tour Winemaking Facilities at WSU Tri‑Cities campus

Viticulture and enology (V&E) students from Washington State University’s Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses had a chance to mingle while learning together during a recent field trip.

The all-day event took place at WSU Tri-Cities and is part of a new VE Connects initiative established by V&E Founding Department Chair Jean Dodson Peterson.

“VE Connects is designed to transform the student transfer experience, improve student recruitment and retention pathways, and create a community,” Dodson Peterson said. “The most recent event was organized specifically to help enrolled students transfer more easily from Pullman to Tri-Cities. This initiative also builds on the comprehensive re-design of the undergraduate curriculum, which is set to launch in fall 2024.”

The VE Connects program is funded by a Phase 1 Career Connect Washington grant that supports experiential learning, internship opportunities, and real-life work experiences for students. The V&E department is currently applying for Phase II of the grant, as well as a Career Connected Certification.

The recent get-together was open to students majoring or minoring in viticulture and enology, as well as those enrolled in Intro to Vines and Wines (V&E 113), a class available to all majors. Throughout the day, students viewed winemaking facilities, interacted with professors, met local winemakers, and participated in a wine tasting session.

It was junior Hannah Smith’s first time on the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

“I loved seeing the classrooms and advanced winemaking technology while meeting professors and leaders in the V&E department,” she said. “It’s important to make those face-to-face connections and hear the expectations of industry partners.”

Smith, a WSU Pullman-based viticulture and enology major, will relocate to WSU Tri-Cities for her final semester of college in spring 2025. Participating in VE Connects gave her an exciting preview.

“It was a wonderful experience — there’s so much life around the Tri-Cities campus,” she said. “There are many opportunities and resources for students, and events like these help us see what options are available at different campuses.”

The group toured the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center, where they observed the facility’s winemaking technology and fermenting wines. They also listened to several graduate students speak about their wine science research.

“It was fascinating to hear about the different research options for students considering grad school,” Smith said.

The day’s itinerary included guest speaker and WSU alumna Mellissa Whitaker, who said it was meaningful to offer an industry perspective to current students. After serving 16 years in the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant, Whitaker graduated from WSU in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology. She’s now an enologist at Kiona Vineyards in Benton City, Washington.

“It was pretty special to receive the invite,” said Whitaker, who also served on an industry panel during the event. “I knew I had the knowledge; I was just looking for an avenue to share it.”

Whitaker’s goal during her guest speaker presentation was to provide students with tangible examples of career trajectories. To that end, she put together a slideshow showcasing students from her graduating class, highlighting their internship experiences and current wine industry careers.

“My favorite part of the day was being able to show students what actual people are doing out in the industry,” Whitaker said. “It’s important to provide proof of concept. Students need to see people who have gone through the V&E program and where they are now.”

During the three-person industry panel, Whitaker told students about the daily responsibilities of a winery intern and what students can expect.

“You have to start somewhere,” Whitaker said. “Learning everything in theory is great, but the practical application and being able to actually put your hands on a tank or analytical equipment — it’s a big deal.”

Her advice to students is simple.

“It’s important to be enthusiastic and a hard worker,” Whitaker said. “Don’t be scared. There are internships aplenty.”

During an afternoon session, WSU Pullman and Tri-Cities students in the V&E 113 class convened for a sampling of wines from around the world, led by Chateau Ste. Michelle Distinguished Professor in Viticulture Markus Keller and Associate Professor of Enology Jim Harbertson.

“I enjoyed meeting the students and tasting the wines,” Harbertson said. “It was fun to share in their excitement.”

He emphasized that in-person connections and learning are invaluable, especially for students who are typically separated by their campus’ physical location.

“It was evident that the Pullman students really enjoyed seeing the winery, labs, classrooms, and public spaces while interacting with the Tri-Cities students and tasting wine together,” Harbertson said. “Zoom is a wonderful tool, but some things are better done in person. This is one of them.” — 

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