Science and the Success of Washington Wine

A new center at Washington State University will help the industry’s bottom line, but what about its soul.

It might seem strange to say, but a recent stop at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center has convinced me that wine science will be as integral as anything else to the continued success of Washington wine. After all, we’re staring at a future of unpredictable growing seasons marked by potentially severe challenges like extreme heat, drought, and rampant forest fires, and while we certainly can’t rely just on science to solve our problems, it will be a huge part of finding workable solutions.

The benefits of a world-class teaching and research institution located in Washington wine country have been clear to the industry itself, which contributed heavily to the project. Techniques that would be risky or expensive for a winery to experiment with can be explored and refined in a laboratory before being promoted to winemakers and grape-growers. During my visit, I heard about experiments on how wildfire smoke affects grapes, and how to detect those affects prior to fermentation; typically smoke taint is detectable only after the wine is made.

For the past several decades, American wine education has been dominated by Cornell University in upstate New York, and the University of California-Davis near Napa Valley. UC-Davis in particular has had an enormous impact on so many elements of American wine production, from clonal selections to winemaking techniques to the now-ubiquitous aroma wheel invented by Dr. Ann Noble. While Washington State isn’t about to dethrone Davis, it’s great that it can look at the specific issues that arise in this state, as opposed to those in California. Our climate, soil, and water stress are different, so winemaking techniques learned in another region or at another school often require translation when brought to Washington’s wine industry.

That said, there’s danger in taking a purely scientific approach to winemaking. One criticism leveled at graduates of UC-Davis is that they often make wine by the book; they’re usually technically correct and devoid of flaws, but can lack the soul and nuance that mark the world’s best wines. It’ll be important for graduates of the Wine Science Center to understand that technical know-how is hugely helpful but not sufficient unto itself; fortunately, the curriculum is designed to teach not just winemaking, but also wine appreciation and sensory evaluation.

Most of all, the Wine Science Center serves as a feeder program for an industry that’s growing at a prodigious rate. While enhanced automation in some new wineries may reduce the need for lots of manual labor, there’s still a huge need for technical expertise, which goes a long way to explain why the Washington wine industry has been such a huge supporter of the program; it has the most to gain from its continued success … along with those of us who just love Washington wine.

barcode@seattleweekly.com

More in Eat Drink Toke

Illustration by James the Stanton
Deep Purple

Purple weed looks cool, but is its beauty only skin deep?

Deli Bellies

Seattle’s deli scene leaves a lot to be desired, but new options look to spice things up.

On May 28, Phnom Penh Noodle House will be closing its doors after 30 years of Cambodian cooking. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Phnom Penh Noodle House’s Closure and the Loss of Cultural Flavor

The restaurant’s end may be a loss for Seattle foodies, but it’s devastating for the local Cambodian community.

Illustration by James the Stanton
How Many Drug-Sniffing Dogs Will Be Killed By Cannabis Legalization?

Spoiler: None. It just turns out an Illinois police department is full of doggone liars.

A special three-course dinner at Goldfinch Tavern is just one option for celebrating Mother’s Day. Photo courtesy Goldfinch Tavern
Mother’s Day 2018 Event Planner

Whether she’s an early bird or a night owl, there’s more than enough happening around Seattle to keep mom active.

Go Up in Smoke

It’s time to clear cannabis conviction records.

The Strains of Spring

These eight cannabis varieties will compliment your seasonal vibes.

Illustration by James the Stanton/@gnartoons
Blunt Country

Now that it’s springtime, let’s get high and go outside.

Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg serve up food chatter and laughs on Spilled Milk. Photo by Morgen Schuler
Laughing Over ‘Spilled Milk’

How the comedic Seattle food podcast became a tasty audible treat.

Illustration by James the Stanton/@gnartoons
Seattle 4/20 Event Picks

Your calendar for all thing stoner-riffic!

Illustration by James the Stanton
10 Seattle Bites Under $10

A quick look at some of our favorite diverse cheap eats.

Chef Daniel Cox shows off the urban garden on top of Quality Athletics. Photo by Morgen Schuler
Roof-to-Table

Seattle restaurants spice up their menus by adding fresh ingredients grown in their own gardens.