Hundreds of winemakers converged on the University of California, Davis, last week for a rare alumni reunion as the Department of Viticulture and Enology broke ground for a new environmentally sustainable winery.
More than four decades of alumni were on hand, arriving from as far away as Canada and South America. Among the nearly 400 attendees were notables such as Rubicon winemaker Scott McLeod, Shafer's Elias Fernandez, Joel Aiken of Beaulieu, Randy Ullom of Kendall-Jackson, MaryAnn Graf and Zelma Long. They mingled with current professors and retired notables such as Ann Noble and Vernon Singleton.
"If you really want to excel in the wine business, UC Davis is the place to be," said Groth winemaker Michael Weis, a 1972 alumnus who was at the event with his son Nate Weis, a 2005 graduate and winemaker at Antica, the Antinori family's Napa winery.
Department chairman Andrew Waterhouse appealed to the alumni for financial support as the program continues to evolve and expand. At one point he asked those attendees who had received scholarships to stand up, and nearly half the crowd came to its feet.
In the past 23 years, Waterhouse said, about $4.6 million in scholarships have been doled out to students, with about $2.3 million of that coming from the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
Many of the Wine Spectator scholars were on hand, including consulting viticulturalist Mark Greenspan of Sonoma County. "I can't overstate how important that scholarship was," Greenspan said. "It enabled me to continue on and get my Ph.D."
A second Wine Spectator scholarship, known as the Student Heritage Program, was launched last year as an internship program that allows current students to be mentored by UC Davis alums. The first recipient was Marc Gagnon, 25, of La Jolla, who worked at Mumm Napa in the summer of 2008, where he was mentored by UC Davis alumna Tami Lotz.
"It's more than a typical internship," said Gagnon. "You're learning from people who have walked in your shoes."
Throughout the day, guests toured the $73 million Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences, which opened last fall, and the new 13-acre vineyard. Construction will soon begin on the 12,500 sq. ft. teaching and research winery, with completion expected by harvest 2010.
The winery is aiming for the highest rating awarded by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), with sustainability and environment-friendly features incorporated into the design. It will be solar-powered, make use of captured rainwater for cleaning needs and be equipped to capture all carbon dioxide from fermentations.
Winemakers McLeod and Fernandez said they envied what future students will achieve with the new facilities available to them. When they graduated in the mid-1980s, UC Davis wasn't known for giving a hands-on education like California State University, Fresno. "We always complained about the facilities," McLeod said, "but the professors were out of this world. Finally, we'll have the sort of teaching facility we've always needed."