First-gen WSU transfer student looks ahead to bright future in wine industry

By Angela Sams

Washington State University transfer student Hector Estrada knows that when he graduates with a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology this spring, he’ll have the work experience and knowledge necessary for a successful career in the wine industry.

Hector Estrada standing among wine barrels

Hector Estrada, pictured in California on a recent field trip for WSU wine science students

“Being a WSU student opens doors to all sorts of job opportunities,” said Estrada, who lives in Prosser, Wash., and attends classes on the WSU Tri-Cities campus. “It’s given me valuable tools to pursue a position in the industry or go into research.”

As a soon-to-be first-generation graduate and one of five siblings, Estrada also hopes his academic achievement will set an example.

“I’ll be the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree,” said Estrada. “That will show my siblings they could do the same and lets them know that I’ll be there to help them along the way.”

Growing up near Bickleton, Wash., in a family of agricultural workers, Estrada was always encouraged by his parents to go to college. During high school, he worked in several local vineyards alongside his mom, helping with tasks such as pruning and cluster counts. That time spent amid the grapevines helped him discern his career path.

Estrada first took wine science classes while earning an associate degree from Yakima Valley College (YVC). He transferred to WSU in fall 2021 after learning about the Department of Viticulture and Enology’s offerings from his YVC advisor.

“I needed a challenge and wanted to improve my critical thinking skills by attending a university,” Estrada said. “I believe I chose the right path by coming to WSU.”

After arriving on the Tri-Cities campus, Estrada worked closely with his advisor Karina Aispuro to determine which classes he should take and devise a graduation plan.

“Hector is a compassionate student who has worked hard,” said Aispuro. “He is intentional about his education and driven to find new opportunities.”

When he’s not in class, Estrada works in the vineyard at Mercer Ranches and as a technical assistant at the WSU Wine Science Center, where he helps with pump-overs, keg cleaning, inventory, sales, and more. He believes his WSU job is preparing him well for a career after college.

“I enjoy working at the Wine Science Center and getting that hands-on experience. At YVC, there wasn’t a winery, and the focus was lectures and reading,” Estrada said. “It’s fascinating to be in the Wine Science Center and have what I learned during class click while I’m working.”

Estrada has especially enjoyed his chemistry courses, which have proven useful in the lab and during his work at the Wine Science Center. The Blended Learning class has also offered Estrada many new experiences, including the chance to create a bottle of wine that will be sold with his name on the label.

“Blended Learning students work with nearby wineries to create wines using their chosen varieties,” Estrada said. “The class helped me a lot because it allowed me to go to wine events and share information with guests about how the wine was blended, and how the students made the wines. The class is also a great way to taste different wines from a variety of regions.”

Through the class, Estrada has also been able to work with multiple wine varietals.

“Last semester, Hector was instrumental in planning wine projects for Grenache and Viognier,” said V&E Professor Thomas Henick-Kling, who launched the Blended Learning program in 2012.  “He looked for suitable fruit and made arrangements with a partner winery. Hector is a highly motivated and dependable worker who is gaining a lot of experience in the vineyard and the winery.”

After graduation, Estrada plans to pursue a job as a viticulturist or vineyard manager. Reflecting on his college experience, he advises current and potential WSU students to trust the process, even during the tough times.

“Transferring from a community college to a university was challenging, and I had to put in a lot of effort,” Estrada said. “It’s important to just keep pushing forward with determination until you get to the final stretch.”