Walla Walla, Wash.—
After completing two years of courses, students at Yakima Valley Community College (above) and Walla Walla Community college can transfer into the viticulture and enology program at Washington State University.
An agreement between Washington State University
and two of the state’s community colleges promises to give viticulture students in the heart of Washington state wine country clear access to higher learning about the industry.
The agreement with Walla Walla Community College
and Yakima Valley Community College
allows students with two years of courses to transfer to WSU’s viticulture and enology degree program, broadening their learning opportunities from technical training to research-oriented learning.
“Both are necessary for success, but having the ability to start with that hands-on focus and understand wine creation from planting to fermentation, then moving on and understanding the chemistry and the science behind it and the research just gives you greater value in the marketplace,” said Jessica Gilmore, dean of business, entrepreneurial and extended learning at Walla Walla Community College.
Graduates and interns from viticulture and enology programs in the Northwest typically have enjoyed placement rates in excess of 85%, thanks to strong demand for their skills in a growing segment of the country’s wine industry.
The strength of the Washington state wine industry—a beacon in the tough economic times of the past five years—has helped maintain student enrolment in the viticulture and enology programs at the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla community colleges. While the state’s grape crop has steadily increased, enrolment in viticulture and enology programs has bucked a national trend of declining college enrolment (see “Northwest Winemaking Programs in Flux
Yakima formally launched a viticulture and enology program in 2007 and welcomed more than 20 students to its first-year class in September 2013; Walla Walla enrolled 34 students at that time, its largest first-year class ever.
Gilmore told Wines & Vines
she expects about 15% of students to exercise the option to transfer; applications from students enrolling this fall bear this out, and she expects six to eight current students to ultimately make the switch (two already have expressed interest in doing so).
So-called sip-and-spit legislation that Washington state passed last year (the state Assembly recently passed a similar bill
in California) also promises to give students a head-start on formal wine industry education. The state now allows registered students who aren’t of legal drinking age to participate in technical tastings as part of course work so long as they spit the wine.
“We now can accept students who are 18 years old and offer them the opportunity to have technical tastings through the program to build that experience,” Gilmore said.
The experience and interest can then be developed at WSU as a result of the transfer agreement; rather than settle for an associate’s degree in applied science, the training can be a foundation for a baccalaureate.
Gilmore said the agreement with WSU is independent of the termination one month ago of Alan Busacca, former director of the college’s viticulture and enology program. (Gilmore oversees the program in lieu of a dedicated director.)
Budget issues lay at the root of the decision, but Gilmore said the transfer program promises to make Walla Walla a competitive option—one that also makes financial sense for students.
“The resources are focussed on student outcomes for sure, and giving them opportunities and pathways is our goal,” Gilmore said. “It certainly makes us an attractive place to start, because from a student standpoint the tuition it takes to attend Walla Walla Community College is much less than the tuition they would pay at WSU.”
The arrangement couldn’t come at a better time for students planning to enrol at the two community colleges. Students entering the programs this fall will be among the first to study at the WSU Wine Science Center being built in Richland. The school is set to complete in 2015 and welcome its first students that fall.
The viticulture and enology program at WSU has 60 students, many of whom transfered to the school from colleges across the United States, according to program director Thomas Henick-Kling. Work also has begun on a transfer agreement with South Seattle Community College.