WSU wine program director ready to roll

Ingrid Stegemoeller, Herald staff writerFebruary 6, 2009 

Thomas Henick-Kling's self-described impatient nature may be a good fit with the Washington wine industry.

"I like the industry out here a lot," he said, citing its rapid growth and dynamic nature. "There's a lot of potential, new areas to explore."

The 52-year-old native of Germany is preparing to move to the Tri-Cities with his wife, Jan, and their 19-year-old son to serve as director of Washington State University's viticulture and enology program.

He was in Kennewick this week for the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

"I haven't tasted a 100-point wine yet," Henick-Kling said with a smile. "As long as that's still out there ... I wouldn't want to stand still."

And there's lots of room to move in his new post, which starts at the beginning of March.

Henick-Kling will work as an internal leader of the WSU program, which has locations in Richland -- where he'll be headquartered -- Prosser and Pullman, as well as an external communicator with those in the wine industry, said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.

"Having somebody of his caliber and experience in this role will allow us to really work hand in glove with industry in developing research and education programs that meet their needs," Bernardo said.

Henick-Kling's appreciation of wine developed early on during trips he took with his father to buy wine, tasting them and meeting the producers along the way.

"I loved to explore different flavors, that excitement of discovery," both in taste and later with research, he said.

After getting a master's degree in microbiology from Oregon State University and a Ph.D. in Australia, Henick-Kling spent 20 years at Cornell University in New York, where he helped develop the enology and viticulture program.

New York went from having 78 wineries when he arrived to about 250 now, Henick-Kling said, adding that he enjoyed being a part of a growing, successful industry.

"The time went fast. I learned a lot," he said.

Henick-Kling left his most recent post at Charles Sturt University in Australia to take up the directorship at WSU.

At the grape growers meeting, Henick-Kling addressed a group of more than 100 industry professionals.

"I came to Washington because I am very excited about the Washington wine industry," he said. "The industry ... wants to keep moving ahead."

People are inquisitive, open to new ideas and quick to integrate those that are effective, he said.

There's collaboration and goal-setting to be done, though, Henick-Kling said.

"For the industry to be successful, it needs to invest more in research and education," he said, adding that all the top wine regions in the world have solid research programs.

Having Henick-Kling as a connector between WSU and the industry will be helpful, said Markus Keller, WSU professor of viticulture in Prosser and a longtime friend of Henick-Kling's.

"He's going to be that link," Keller said. "He will be the communicator between the industry and WSU. He's been there, he's done it all. He can bring the outside audience in."

Henick-Kling's global perspective will be an asset to the state's industry as well, said Ryan Pennington, senior communications manager for the Washington Wine Commission.

"Having a superstar who speaks on behalf of the entire industry when it comes to research is invaluable," he said.

That star power also will help bring in funding and recognition, Pennington added.

Henick-Kling is the second international recruit for WSU Tri-Cities, said Chancellor Vicky Carwein.

"He comes with a stellar background in the industry and certainly has international experience. He's going to bring a wonderful expertise."

She also is looking forward to cementing the campus' connections with the Prosser location and expanding course offerings, research and hands-on experience for students, Carwein said.

And as curriculum for the viticulture and enology program continues to evolve, Bernardo and Henick-Kling agree that students need more experience with the business side of the industry.

"The industry folks are very keen on the students graduating with a broader knowledge," Bernardo said.

"We train students with solid backgrounds on how grapes are grown and wine is made, but they also need to have marketing skills," Henick-Kling told the Herald.

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