Six Washington State tree fruit and grape industry leaders were recently inducted into the Hall of Honored Alumni and Friends by Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Earlier in the year, the six received WSU’s Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the alumni association.

Michael and Laura Mrachek, Kyle and Jan Mathison, Ted Baseler, and Rick Small were the only WSU alumni inducted into the agricultural college’s hall this year. They join some 40 other agricultural alumni previously honored in CAHNRS hall.

"The Hall of Honored Alumni and Friends is dedicated to some of the finest examples of those who have benefited from their education, and used that knowledge to serve others," said CAHNRS Dean Dan Bernardo, adding that the honored alumni have positively affected the state of Washington, the nation, and the world. "Their stories are varied as their faces, but they share a common factor—their dedication to the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and the industries we serve."

Walla Walla wines

Rick Small, owner of Woodward Canyon Winery in Walla Walla, graduated from WSU in 1969 with a degree in agriculture. Small is recognized for helping put Walla Walla and Washington State on the world map of wine destinations.

He was the first president of the Walla Walla Valley Winegrowers Association, and he helped found the Washington Wine Quality Alliance. Small is current chair of the board of directors of the Washington Wine Commission and member of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Small has provided energy and leadership to the state’s wine industry to ensure that Washington wine is grown using smart, science-based practices. He is a supporter of Wine by Cougars, Feast of the Arts, WSU’s Excellence Fund, and the college viticulture and enology program.

Dynamic duo

Mike and Laura Mrachek grow apples, cherries, and wine grapes, turning their grapes into award-winning wines at their Saint Laurent Winery. Mike graduated with a soil science degree in 1974; Laura graduated with a horticulture degree in 1977. Their son Bryan graduated from WSU this year and is working in the wine industry.

Mike developed technology that helps growers manage irrigation by analyzing soil moisture, and Laura founded Cascade Analytical, a laboratory headquartered in Wenatchee that provides soil, water, pesticide, and plant fertility analysis to growers and municipalities.

The Mracheks, recognized for their innovative and inspiring industry contributions, were named the 2007 Growers of the Year by Good Fruit Grower magazine. Their winery was named the 2007 Winery to Watch by the Wine Press Northwest. Mike has been a long-time member of the Washington State Fruit Commission board of directors; Laura will be the first woman president of the Washington State Horticultural Association in 2009. They support WSU’s Feast of the Arts, Celebration of Washington Wines, and have provided technical assistance in water sampling to WSU.

Humble leader

Ted Baseler graduated from WSU in 1976 with a degree in communication. He has been involved with the state’s wine industry for nearly 25 years, joining Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in 1984. Since 2001, he has been CEO of the Pacific Northwest’s largest wine company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and is credited with growing Ste. Michelle into one of the nation’s top ten premium wineries. He has been described as a calm, but passionate, humble individual.

In 2002, he started the Chateau Ste. Michelle Diversity Scholarship Fund, which has provided $1.2 million in scholarships to under-represented and minority students at both WSU and the University of Washington.

Baseler served on WSU’s Board of Regents, is a past chair of the Washington Wine Commission, the Napa-based Wine Market Council, and director of the Washington Wine Institute. He has served on the Washington Business Roundtable, been involved in numerous charity wine auctions, and was recently nominated 2008 Man of the Year by the Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Cherry advocate

Kyle Mathison graduated with a horticultural degree in 1976 and his wife, Jan, received her degree in general studies/humanities in 1979. The five-generation Mathison family of Wenatchee is a pioneer of growing apples, cherries, pears, and apricots. Their fruit-packing operation, Stemilt Growers, has become synonymous with high-quality tree fruit and is known throughout the world. Kyle and the Mathison family’s tree fruit reach is extensive, and includes cherry orchards from Washington to California to Chile, along with more recently grown crops of blueberries, pluots, and wine grapes.

The Mathison family has received numerous industry awards for their production, packaging, environmental stewardship, and marketing innovations and industry leadership. Kyle, who shares his passion for cherries with all who will listen, was crowned the 2007 Northwest Cherry Institute King. He is a member of the board of directors of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

Kyle and Jan launched Stemilt Creek Winery in 2002 to turn their grape production into estate wines. Their daughter Susan Graham graduated from WSU with a degree in horticulture, viticulture, and enology in 2007, and her husband, Robin Graham, also graduated from WSU at the same time. Jan, Susan, and Robin are the winemakers at Stemilt Creek.