Auction of Washington Wines event raises more than $150,000 for WSU wine science research

By Angela Sams

Washington State University wine science faculty, staff, and students joined vintners and other wine industry members at The Winemakers Reserve in Woodinville this month to celebrate the eighth Auction of Washington Wines Private Barrel Auction.

Since its 2015 inception, the philanthropic event has raised more than $1.2 million for WSU viticulture and enology (V&E) research initiatives, with this year’s auction bringing in more than $150,000 in additional funding for the university.

“The Private Barrel Auction holds significant importance for WSU’s V&E department and its students,” said Jean Dodson Peterson, WSU V&E department founding chair. “By investing in our research efforts, the auction contributes to advancements in V&E practices, ultimately enhancing the quality and competitiveness of Washington wines on a global scale.”

A student holds a bottle of Blended Learning wine while standing next to a round piece of wood with the WSU Blended Learning logo and the Pepper Bridge Winery logo on it as well as the words "Private Barrel Auction." In front of the round of wood is a paper with lines on it and graphics of the WSU logo and the Pepper Bridge Winery logo and bottles of wine. There is a bottle of wine sitting next to the paper.

WSU Blended Learning student Lorenzo Gonzales McComb displays the cabernet sauvignon that students developed with Pepper Bridge Winery.

In addition to supporting WSU wine science research, the Private Barrel Auction offers locals and visitors alike an opportunity to explore the unique offerings of the Washington wine scene.

“The Private Barrel Auction is a handcrafted, philanthropic undertaking that reaches a national audience for Washington wine,” Auction of Washington Wines Executive Director Jamie Peha said in a statement. “It strengthens the reputation of Washington as a dynamic wine region with exceptional terroir.”

Representatives from more than 30 wineries were on hand to provide tastings of their creations, and undergraduates from WSU’s Blended Learning class offered tastes of a cabernet sauvignon they developed in partnership with Walla Walla, Wash.-based Pepper Bridge Winery.

Elle Jennings, a Blended Learning wine creator, said she took pride in sharing the student-made blend with industry members.

“It was so much fun to talk about the discussions we had while creating the blend,” said Jennings, a V&E major who will graduate in spring 2025. “It was also an amazing feeling to have people who are established in the wine industry trying the wine that I helped make and giving us such positive feedback.”

Three students stand next to a wine barrel with two bottles of WSU wine on it, and a glass carafe. Behind the bottle of wine is a paper with lines on it and graphics of wine bottles as well as the WSU logo and the Pepper Bridge Winery logo. Behind the paper is a round piece of wood with the words "Private Barrel Auction" and the WSU Blended Learning logo and the Pepper Bridge Winery logo.

From left to right: WSU Blended Learning students Alicia Olivares, Lorenzo Gonzales McComb, and Elle Jennings

Beyond showcasing the capabilities of WSU V&E students, the Blended Learning wine also added value to the auction.

“This wine serves as a testament to the talents, skills, and dedication of WSU V&E students,” Dodson Peterson said. “By sharing their Blended Learning wines at the auction, students not only gain recognition for their efforts but also contribute to the overall success of the event.”

After a few hours of tasting the different offerings, munching on a generous spread of hors d’oeuvres, and mingling with other attendees, bidders gathered in the auction space with their paddles at the ready. A spirited and entertaining bidding war ensued, as one five-case lot after another was auctioned off.

It was Jennings’ first time seeing a live auction, and it’s an experience she’d highly recommend to other V&E students.

“It was so fun to see how many people showed up to taste great wine and support WSU V&E,” Jennings said. “Seeing that people are proud of your program and want you to succeed was a fantastic experience.”

Jennings is already looking forward to going to the Private Barrel Auction in the future — perhaps in a different capacity. “The event was such an eye-opening and educational experience,” she said. “I hope I get the chance to attend again — maybe next time as one of the winemakers!”

More photos of the Private Barrel Auction.