The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation is donating $10 million to expand and update the teaching facilities of Napa Valley College (NVC) and its Viticulture, Wine and Technology (VWT) program. Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator, announced the donation this morning, as part of the Scholarship Foundation’s efforts to help educate the next generation of American winemakers and grapegrowers.
“If there was ever an educational institution poised for significant contributions to the growth of the California wine industry, this is it,” said Shanken. “It is our hope that the door for learning opens wider for young adults from all walks of life, providing a path for future leaders in the wine industry.”
Napa Valley College’s VWT is one of the largest wine technology college programs in the country, serving more than 800 students annually, most of whom already work full-time in the wine industry. The campus sits adjacent to the Napa River, just south of downtown Napa, and includes a 5-acre vineyard and commercial winery.
The VWT looks at the wine industry from three different angles: agriculture, food science and marketing and hospitality. Two-year associate degrees are offered, as well as certificate programs in particular specialties.
The Wine Spectator Wine Education Complex will consist of three buildings on the south end of the NVC campus. The school will construct a brand-new sensory classroom. And two existing buildings will be upgraded, including a modern instructional wine laboratory and a wine sales training facility, which will include a tasting room for hospitality instruction.
“This is a great, big, wonderful gift,” said Dr. Ron Kraft, president of NVC. He added that initially the school planned to update the facilities in three stages. “But with this generous gift, we’ll be able to move forward all at once.”
Among wine education programs in California, NVC is well-known but perhaps unsung. As a community college program, the focus is on job placement and a practical, boots-on-the-ground approach. It also serves a diverse group of students—from those fresh out of high school to people in the wine industry who want a refresh on their education, as well as retirees and hobby winemakers.
Winemaking professor Paul Gospodarczyk explains the VWT program covers all aspects of the wine industry. “From the time you think about planting a grapevine until the customer is actually enjoying wine, we cover everything in between,” he said.
Viticulture instructor Molly Hodgins adds that what makes the VWT program unique is access. “We are more accessible; not just financially, but we also make it easier for students to take multiple classes.”
Gospodarczyk agrees. “You can actually work a full-time job and participate in higher education,” he said, pointing to evening and weekend classes they offer. “We do a lot of intensive night classes.”
The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation gift comes at a time when NVC is making other bold moves. President Kraft explains that while housing at community colleges is unusual, they realize that affordable housing is a barrier to students who live in or near Napa. There are plans for facilities with 600 beds to be built at the north end of campus over the next four years, reflecting the needs of their population, from family setups to shared apartments and traditional dorm rooms.
Jessica Thomason, executive director of the Napa Valley College Foundation, says that their primary mission has been to hand out individual scholarships and provide relief to students to make sure they don’t have to drop out. Students that become displaced by wildfires or need laptops are given help. But the need for upgraded buildings for the VWT had become apparent to them. Classes were verging on becoming standing-room only and they wanted to keep up with the latest wine industry technology.
Over the past four decades, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has provided grants and scholarships to a variety of wine-related and culinary programs. To date, more than $30 million has been raised, supported by the generosity of vintners around the world, who donate the wine for Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience, and the thousands of wine lovers who attend. Foundation beneficiaries have included students at the University of California at Davis School of Viticulture & Enology (924 students to date), Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute (the Wine Spectator Learning Center), Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, the Culinary Institute of America and the Roots Foundation, among others.