Ready to get a degree in chardonnay?
The first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825. Since then, Washington state has grown to become the nation’s second-largest wine producer.
Wine is a multibillion dollar industry in Washington. And with all the wine flowing out of the state, the industry needs professionals who know everything there is to know about vino. So in 2004, the Northwest Wine Academy was established as a “working and teaching winery” in South Seattle. Students can sign up to take just a class or two or take a full slate of classes to work toward a degree in Wine Production or Marketing & Sales of Food and Wine.
“We have all the equipment and necessary tools in order for our students to learn everything from crushing the grapes, bottling and fermenting the wine, all the way to the end product with printing out labels and boxing up the wine for shipment,” said Dieny Aras, advisor for the Wine Program. “Our wine tasting room is open to the public, so the public can experience the wine that our students create, and our marketing students can learn how to manage a tasting room.”
Students in the program get specialized training. Those with an eye on production get to travel from the campus at South Seattle College over to Eastern Washington to pick and crush grapes and see the wines through to final production. Sales and Marketing students prepare materials to sell the wines and also manage the tasting room’s wine events. Food and Wine Pairing students utilize their training by selecting foods to prepare and by managing on-campus events.
Along the way, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer with wineries and at events, helping to develop contacts within the industry and to further develop relevant skills. Students work with highly qualified instructors who are well known and respected wine industry veterans.
“Washington wine is amazing because of its diversity. Our diversity comes from our growing season,” said Regina Denault, instructor. “We can grow riesling or we can grow syrah and everything in between—mourvèdre, malbec. There are so many varieties grown here now.”
This incredible on-the-job training is part of a concerted effort in Washington to educate young people rather than rely on other states—specifically California—to do the job for us. In 2015, Washington State University opened its high-tech Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center in the Tri-Cities. The center represents the industry’s focus on its future and contains some of the most advanced technologies and equipment available. Walla Walla and Yakima Valley community colleges also provide vital training to those who want to become winemakers.
Thanks to these in-state educational opportunities, 50 to 80 new graduates will find their niche—probably inventing jobs we haven’t thought of yet—and revolutionizing Washington winemaking all over again.