Alumni

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Robb Zimmel remembers as a child watching his German relatives create concoctions from grapes and beets, onions and rhubarb. It wasn’t a stew, though, but wine that was cooked, bottled, capped with balloons and left to ferment.

“The balloons would get bigger and bigger,” said Zimmel, a Washington State University Tri-Cities graduate. “As soon as they deflated, my grandma would say ‘it is time’ and they would gather to finish the winemaking process.”

Since that early age, he has been comforted by the memory of winemaking, inspired by some of the most beautiful women in his life. This summer, he will release wines on his own label after graduating as part of WSU Tri-Cities’ first blended learning classes last year.

“I fell in love with that process, that romance, that wonderful feeling that came with making wine,” he said.

Education ‘changed my life’

While pursuing a full-time career as a flight paramedic in Portland, Ore., Zimmel followed his family’s example and made wine on the side. But after Sept. 11, 2001, he was called from the U.S. Army Reserves to serve overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He remembers calling his wife late one night in 2010 on a satellite phone from the middle of the desert: “I can’t do this anymore,” he said. She asked if he would be interested in putting his wine experience to use as a new career.

The day he got back to the United States, he headed to the WSU Vancouver campus where he studied for two years before transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to complete his degree in viticulture and enology.

“At WSU, I’ve studied with some of the nation’s best wine professors and worked with alumni who have studied all over the world,” he said. “My education at WSU changed my life.”

Winning ways … and wines

A little more than a year ago, Zimmel was recommended for a position in the tasting room at Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland by friend and fellow WSU viticulture and enology graduate Joel Perez.

Zimmel credits owners Deborah Barnard and Rob Griffin and their daughters Elise Jackson and Megan Hughes for his growth as a winemaker. Griffin would often invite him to bring in wine he made to be tasted and refined.

“Why would they go out of their way to help me?” Zimmel said. “But that’s just how they are. They are the most giving family I’ve ever met.”

“I’ve always been interested in the education part of the wine industry,” Griffin said. “I do it because I want the Washington wine industry to be great. If Washington wins, we all win.”

Embraced by family of vintners

With the support of the Barnard Griffin family and WSU, Zimmel said, he created the first batch of wine on his label, Cerebella. The name refers to a part of the brain and is a tie to his former career in the medical field.

He created 500 cases of wine in four varietals including a riesling, chardonnay, merlot and malbec. They will be available for purchase this summer.

To preorder or arrange a tasting, contact him through his Facebook page, Zimmel Unruh Cellars, athttps://www.facebook.com/ZimmelUnruhCellars.

“I just can’t believe that day has finally come,” Zimmel said. “I’m a winemaker, and I owe it all to the people who have helped me along the way. It’s a dream come true. It really is.”

Pauline Garza, a student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, has never wanted to be anything other than a chef.

Growing up, she said she remembers watching her mother and grandmother cook, hoping one day that she, too, would take hold of a spoon to whip up something that would captivate the senses.

“I just love food,” she said. “Becoming a chef has always been on my mind. I never really thought of doing anything else.”

Garza held a few jobs in the restaurant industry, and even job shadowed at Table 10, one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in Las Vegas. Now a full-time chef for the 3 Eyed Fish Wine Bar in Richland, she plans the menus, completes the shopping, researches meal ideas, and prepares courses for restaurant customers.

HBM program at Tri-Cities offered for the first time

However, even with all this experience, Garza said there was still much to learn about the restaurant business.

This year, Garza enrolled in the hospitality business management (HBM) degree program at WSU Tri-Cities, which is offered at the campus for the first time this fall. The WSU Faculty Senate voted to extend the bachelor of arts degree to the Carson College of Business on the Tri-Cities campus March 12, 2015. The degree will offer two majors: HBM and wine business management.

Garza said she originally started her degree at the WSU Pullman campus, but due to personal reasons, decided to move back home and put school on hold. She resumed school at WSU Tri-Cities and planned on getting a business degree since the campus didn’t offer the HBM degree. But now that she can specialize in HBM, she will have the opportunity to apply even more of what she learns in the classroom to her career.

“I was really worried when I left Pullman that I wouldn’t have the same opportunities, but now, I like to think that I’m in the Tri-Cities for a reason,” she said.

Community benefits from HBM talent pool

Cindy Goulet (’90), owner of 3 Eyed Fish Wine Bar and a graduate of WSU Pullman’s hotel and restaurant program, said she is thrilled about the WSU Tri-Cities campus offering the degree. She said it will allow her to find even more talented employees like Garza.

“I think it is really exciting,” she said. “We are always looking for talented people. We are so fortunate to have Pauline here.”

Garza said she is already putting what she has learned through her business classes at the university to good use. She said school helps keep her motivated and increases her potential to be a better chef and future business owner.

“I want to have my own bistro and influence others who are passionate about the food industry,” she said. “I want to make beautiful food for everybody. It’s all about getting that smile after the first bite from my customers.”