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Washington State Wine Commission and WSU take WAVEx on the Road

by L.M. Archer
July 12, 2019

Woodinville, Wash. - Who said brettanomyces is boring? Dr. Charles G. Edwards and Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling of Washington State University Viticulture and Enology program proved the appeal of pesky microbes at their latest WAVEx wine research seminar on June 10, 2019 at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery Theater in Woodinville.

“I was really excited to see this many people at the seminar,” says wine microbiologist Dr. Henick-Kling, Director and Professor of Enology at the Washington State University (WSU) Viticulture and Enology Program, “We just about filled our room here.”

Sponsored by the Washington State Wine Commission, Washington State University and Woodinville Wine Country, WAVEx provides an abbreviated version of WAVE (Washington Advancement in Viticulture and Enology), a popular Washington state wine industry research seminar. “It’s a way to bridge that gap that so often happens between academics and industry. We don’t always speak the same language,” says Melissa Hansen, Research Program Director for Washington State Wine Commission, “[The seminars] have been so successful, and have shown a real hunger, especially on the wine side, for data-driven, practical information.”

Fifty winemakers, cellar masters, assistant winemakers, lab technicians and product suppliers attended the extensive 3-hour curriculum, studying practical issues like “Managing Native Fermentations” and “How to Work with High pH Fruit,” presented by Dr. Henick-Kling, plus “Cross Inoculation Practices” and “Brettanomyces - Friend or Foe?” with WSU professor and food scientist Dr. Charles Edwards.

“This is our mechanism for communication with the wine industry,” explains the engaging Dr. Edwards, “And it’s a wonderful form, not only from the presenter point of view, but from the recipient point of view, because you can get a nice interactive type of situation. The class size is not too large, and allows for a lot of positive interaction.”

Funding derives from mandatory Washington State Wine Commission membership assessments levied on both winegrowers and winemakers - either on grape tonnage, or wine gallons produced and marketed. This differs from other wine research programs nationwide, some of which fund in part from voluntary contributions, or partially from grape grower assessments only. “You have buy-in from everyone,” says Hansen, “It’s not an elite group that everybody else is riding on the coattails. And so, we highlight research that the industry is supporting. We don’t just pick topics out of the air.”

Collaboration between researchers and the wine industry provides another key component that sets the Washington state program apart. “A committee helps approve all the research proposals,” says Edwards, “And each individual on that committee has a specific researcher that they work with. So it really makes for a wonderful interaction between the researchers, who maybe know the theory and the science, against the liaisons, who are using that information from a practical and application point of of view.”

Both Edwards and Henick-Kling cite their Committee Research liaison Brian Carter of Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville as a cornerstone of their success. “I’ve known Brian about 30 years now, and he has been just absolutely wonderful,” says Edwards, “At times he can be really tough, at times he can be really easy, and all gradients in between. But we have needed that, we have used that to help guide us down the path we need to go.”

Dr. Henick-Kling underscores the importance of this unusual synergy between academics and industry. “It’s critical. Our viticultural and enology program covers the extension for the whole state. We don’t have [enough] people to cover the whole state with ten seminars a year,” he says, “It’s fantastic since the Washington Wine Commission stepped in and said, “We’ll help get the word out.” They’ve got staff that’s just really good in communication. So we’re lucky in Washington to have this great collaboration with industry.”

Hansen foresees even more robust research programs on the horizon for the Washington wine industry. “The Wine Science Center was just paid off in May,” she says, “So we’re scaling up the wine research program for the state. We’ll be able to look at both short-term ‘proof of concept’ projects, as well as picking out a really important topics, and carving out dedicated forces for that.”

The Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center, a state-of-the-art facility which opened in 2015, comprises a $23 million, 40,000 square-foot high-tech hub for wine research and teaching in north Richland. ”I think it’s a very comprehensive program,” concludes Dr. Henick-Kling, “And the uniqueness is how closely we can work with the industry. They’re tremendously supportive. The back-and-forth - that’s a good thing.”

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