Cameron Rushton crafted Cougar X with red meat in mind.

The blend is big, bold, and dense, with hints of plum, white pepper, and jalapeño. It’s meant to be served with a juicy steak or cellared⁠—or both. “This wine isn’t going to blink an eye until 2030,” says Rushton (’10 Hort.), co-owner and assistant winemaker at Five Star Cellars in Walla Walla and creator of Cougar X.

The tenth offering in the limited Cougar Collectors’ Series is composed of 93 percent cabernet sauvignon and 7 percent cabernet franc. It features 100 percent Walla Walla fruit, including cabernet sauvignon from five different vineyards⁠—Pepper Bridge and Blue Mountain, among them. Thirty percent was aged on American oak and seventy percent on European oak, mostly French and Hungarian. Of that, some 20 percent was new oak, both French and American.

“So it’s not going to be overly spicy, but it’s going to have some nice spice notes⁠—cinnamon and seasoning salt,” Rushton says. “The green notes will go away in its youth leaving a richness that’s not overly fruity but not overly oaky, either.”

Members of the Wine-By-Cougars Wine Club, one of the Washington State University Alumni Association’s premier programs, will receive the special red blend in their fall shipment. Now’s the time to sign up to guarantee getting a bottle of Cougar X. It’s free to join, and Wine-By-Cougars is open to all members of the WSUAA. Gift memberships are also available.

“We’ve had University of Washington alumni purchase WSU Alumni Association memberships in order to be in the wine club,” says Kelly Brantner (’96 Busi., ’97 MBA), WSUAA’s director of membership and marketing. But most of the 750 members are Cougs who especially enjoy serving their Wine-By-Cougars wines at dinner parties. “It’s another way for them to talk about how proud they are of WSU,” Brantner says.

Members receive shipments in February, April, September, and November. Choices are one red and one white, two reds, four reds, or three reds and one white. All shipments feature highly acclaimed, handcrafted premium wines produced by wineries with a Cougar connection. They also come with tasting notes, alumni profiles, suggested culinary pairings, and exclusive offers, such as early registration for the WSUAA’s sell-out Feast dinner each fall.

Wines from Wine-By-Cougars are highlighted at the four-course Feast dinners, a partnership between the WSUAA, its Wine-By-Cougars Wine Club, the Carson College of Business School of Hospitality Business Management, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU, School of Music, and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Wine-By-Cougars wines are also featured at WSUAA chapter and club wine-tasting events, in the WSUAA travel program, and more. This spring, for example, the WSUAA is organizing a trip to two wine regions in Spain with Melanie Krause (’00 Spanish, Biol.) and her husband and business partner, Joe Schnerr (’99 Chem.), founders of Cinder Wines. Wine trips to Argentina and Tuscany are planned for 2024.

“We often hear from wineries, especially smaller wineries, about how impactful Wine-By-Cougars is for them,” Brantner says, noting more than 150 wineries have participated in the wine club.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when tasting rooms were shut down and wineries had to switch business models, Wine-By-Cougars encouraged alumni to “Stay Home, Drink Wine, Help Cougs” through a special initiative to help Coug-related wineries. “We were hearing from Cougar-connected wineries that were staying in business because Cougs were supporting them,” Brantner says.

The Cougar Collectors’ Series débuted in 2014 with a mostly merlot Gordon Estate blend. Since then, the series has showcased special blends from Columbia Crest, Bergevin Lane Vineyards, EFESTĒ, Mercer Wine, Canoe Ridge Vineyards, Reininger Winery, Goose Ridge Vineyards, and Basalt Cellars.

Early on, wineries only made about 300 cases of their Cougar Collectors’ Series offerings. Today, they aim for 1,000.

Cougar X will also be available for purchase at a limited number of retailers, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. But take note: wines in the Cougar Collectors’ Series typically sell out within a year of their release.

Purchasing a bottle helps support scholarships for the next generation of WSU wine leaders through the Viticulture & Enology program, and the Wine Business Management program.

For more info or to sign up for the Wine-By-Cougars Wine Club, or to join the WSU Alumni Association, visit


Web exclusives

Cougar X winemaker Cameron Rushton (and his wine tasting tips)

A tour of Spain with Cougar winemakers