Woodinville wineries team up to create diversity scholarship at WSU’s Viticulture and Enology Program

By Kate Parker Sullivan

Washington State University boasts one of the best viticulture and enology programs in the United States. Even so, schools need vast resources to sustain a winemaking program and so do the students at the heart of it all. Those most at a disadvantage for resources — monetarily, in terms of connections and in other ways — are students of color and women. To respond accordingly, DeLille Cellars and Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates teamed up with the Woodinville Wine Country Association to turn the dream of a scholarship endowment into reality.

“This was actually a new project we really started discussing in 2020,” says Keri Tawney, DeLille’s marketing director of six years. “DeLille has a history of charitable giving … [but] this was really the first large scholarship project that we’ve done.”

When DeLille’s CEO Tom Dugan first had the idea of creating a scholarship, he reached out to nearby Chateau Ste. Michelle and learned that they too had been considering similar ways to support students of color and women.

“And we realized Woodinville Wine Country — which is a local organization supporting all Woodinville wineries and other hospitality partners— also had been having some thoughts about it,” says Tawney. “So, we realized there were many entities that wanted to do something in this area. By teaming together … we were actually able to establish an endowment.”

Once depositing the needed $25,000 to open the endowment for what would come to be called the Woodinville Wine Country Diversity Scholarship, the three entities began working more closely with Washington State University to identify how best to put the new scholarship to use.

One of the first recipients? A first-generation student and single mom whose parents immigrated from Mexico named Lorena Zurita. Zurita worked in apple orchards every day after school to help support her family, later taking a job as a quality control analyst in a processing plant that demanded 12-hour night shifts. During this time, Zurita would attend college classes during the day and take care of her daughter.

A graduate of the class of 2022, Zurita was also a research assistant to Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, the director of WSU’s Viticulture and Enology Program.

“The need is there. Everything — any donation helps,” says Henick-Kling, when talking about the scholarship and similar programs. “We’re able to support the student a little bit more.”

In an interview with Ann-Marie Hunter for the WSU Fundraising News, Zuita said that the scholarships she received during her time in the viticulture program allowed her to continue studying rather than pausing to make ends meet for her and her family.

“It’s great to see students [whose] parents were working already in the industry and now their kids are getting advanced degrees or bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” says Henick-Kling.

This full-circle transformation is something DeLille hopes to be part of for years to come, since the endowment is a long-term investment pool that the company can continue adding to.

In 2021, according to Tawney, DeLille used their established D2 “Heart” label fundraiser to raise $10,000 for the budding scholarship endowment. In the past, the D2 “Heart” label — with a calligraphed “D2” in red foil donning a limited number of bottles each season — has been used to raise funds for other nonprofits, from the Boys and Girls Club to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation and everything in between.

Another D2 Heart fundraising campaign is scheduled for September of this year. The proceeds will go straight into the scholarship endowment to assist students just like Lorena Zurita with their education.

“Now, the company — as it grows and as time goes on — has really wanted to not only maintain and keep up all of those connections that our founders had started, but to further that as we can [and] as we grow,” Tawney says.

In the future, Zuita’s goal is to open a vineyard or small winery. Even though the financial support of the diversity scholarship is a tremendous help for students, few things beat hands-on experience. That’s why DeLille and Chateau Ste. Michelle make a point of supporting scholarship recipients in more personal ways, as well.

“We’ve actually invited the first recipients out for a tour of the winery and hope to be involved, to the extent that they want to be, in sharing more about the industry,” says Tawney. “There are always internship opportunities, also, which both DeLille and Chateau Ste. Michelle have shared with the first two winners.”

To donate to the scholarship endowment, click here.