Glenn Gauthier
South Seattle President Gary Oertli (center) cut the ribbon to officially open the new home for South’s Northwest Wine Academy. From left to right: NWWA Instructor Regina Daigneault, President Gary Oertli, and NWWA faculty member Peter Boss. Please click the image above or see below the story for more images.

SLIDESHOW: SSCC’s new Northwest Wine Academy facility is officially open

It was celebration time for South Seattle Community College on June 6 as they officially opened the new facility for their Northwest Wine Academy that creates more space, higher-tech classrooms, and a winery-style environment to help the program create even more award-winning wine industry professionals.

At the campus’s northeast corner on the Duwamish side of West Seattle, an old machine shop was converted into the 9,000 square foot facility by Boxwood Architects, a Seattle-based firm that specializes in designing wineries … and now places to learn about wine as well. The transition was made on a budget of $2 million and creates a fully functioning winery with all the required aspects of a learning space which is one of only a few in the country, according to Boxwood’s Jeremy Reding. UC Davis in California has one, for example, but theirs ran $40 million.

“They did a lot (with that $2 million budget),” he said.

After the formalities of a ribbon-cutting ceremony with SSCC President Gary Oertli and NWWA Instructors Regina Daigneault and Peter Boss were complete on opening night (although the students have already been learning in the new space for a month), the Brian Kirk Trio filled the NWWA with soothing jazz as past alumni, current students and staff and wine enthusiasts sampled students’ wines and hors d’oeuvres created by the school’s culinary program.

Boxwood’s Reding was on hand to explain the facility, and gave the Herald a tour to on some of the highlights from converting a “bare-bones” machine shed into the new NWWA.

Before making the transition, the wine program was crammed next to the welding program, which is not necessarily a match made in heaven and although the new space is much larger, Reding said the building was designed to push utility even farther.

“Really, the program should have been in a slightly larger building, so what we needed to do was find a way to make every space double,” he said.

Nearly every room in the has three to four uses, Reding explained, from the kitchen room (used to create foods to test what pairs well with what wine) that can open up into the tasting room for fundraisers or parties, to the tank room that could be filled with 8 x10 foot tanks of wine-in-the-works one day, and students learning from a French wine expert on a distance learning connection projected to a drop down screen the next.

There are two dedicated classrooms, including a sensory class where students learn about the subtle flavors that can be worked into wine like vanilla, rose petals and pepper, and a full lab with twenty stations equipped with water, gas, nitrogen and power so students can test their creations for acidity, PH levels, hot and cold stability, residual sugar levels and so on (basically all the behind-the-scenes things that go into making a good glass of wine).

Enologist (a scientist of wine and wine-making) John MacCalister was in the lab on opening night, having returned to the NWWA to teach after graduating from the program in 2007 and spending some years in the professional realm.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said of the lab.

Skylights bring in natural light throughout the building which is now fully insulated, and two barreling rooms are double insulated by their walls made of old wood pallets mixed with concrete (after the moisture is removed from the wood). As Reding explained, those rooms can be kept at a steady 55 degrees independent of the rest of the building. Speaking to a few current students in the program, they said the advantage is they won’t have to wear jackets in the classroom in the middle of summer (at the old facility, everything was together, so everything was 55 degrees).

For the program’s front of house learning aspect, Boxwood created a tasting room that replicates what you’ll see in real winery tasting rooms around the world. There, students learn the retail side of wine life, from creating their own marketing plans and wine labels to doing tastings with the public (those happen every week, and are free to the of-age public, FYI). As Reding put it, the advantage is students get accustomed to working a tasting room professionally (and making those mistakes early on) before stepping out into the real world.

NWWA Wine Technology Coordinator and full-time faculty member Regina “Reggie” Daigneault (also a West Seattle resident) shared her feelings on what the new space means to faculty and students:

“It’s amazing, we are pinching ourselves,” she said. “It’s thrilling because we were always the little engine that could. We were in a little tiny space, we crammed as many students as we could in … we had a makeshift hot water burner going, stuff like that, so we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

“It’s huge and it’s our own building, and it’s just really cool.”

Positive changes have become the norm for the NWWA program as of late, with the new facility coming on the heels of forming a partnership with the world-renowned Bordeaux Wine School and having eight students win awards at the 2013 Seattle Wine Awards, including three Double Golds – the best of the best.

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