A Legacy of Giving: The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation

Since its inception in 1982, the foundation has raised $30 million in support of wine and hospitality education

A Legacy of Giving: The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation
Washington State University has received grants for both scholarships and lab facilities. (Courtesy of Washington State)
From the Nov 15, 2021, issue

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.

In September 2021, shortly after press time for this issue, Napa Valley College joined the list of recipients, receiving $10 million to expand and update the teaching facilities for its Viticulture, Wine and Technology program. The foundation's largest gift ever will go toward contruction of the three-building Wine Spectator Wine Education Complex on NVC’s campus.

Investing in the Next Generation of Winemakers

University of California, Davis, Viticulture and Enology program

Rebekah Wineburg was a 16-year-old science kid from Washington, D.C., when she first visited Napa Valley on a family vacation. Despite not being able to taste any wine, a seed was planted. While earning a dual degree in chemistry and biology at Macalester College in Minnesota, she often thought about becoming a winemaker but didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. Then, one of her chemistry professors told her about the viticulture and enology program at the University of California, Davis (U.C., Davis), and she applied.

Today, Wineburg is the winemaker for Napa’s Quintessa, a post she’s held since 2015. She is one success story of 924 students who have received a Wine Spectator scholarship for their viticulture and enology studies at U.C., Davis. “I remember feeling incredibly proud and honored to receive the scholarship,” recalls Wineburg, who graduated in 2002. Wineburg says that when you’re a young, ambitious winemaker, it’s easy to lack confidence. “Being recognized for a scholarship is a confidence boost and makes you feel worthy of being in the industry—that someone sees potential in you.”

The U.C., Davis, Wine Spectator Scholarships have provided $3.7 million in financial support to aspiring students with dreams to be winemakers and viticulturists. Emily Wiemer, who graduated in 2017, says the Wine Spectator scholarship sponsored more than just her schooling: “It contributed to my foundational education, new career opportunities and all of the connections I made while at U.C., Davis.”

Wiemer is currently employed at Sonoma’s Three Sticks Winery as an enologist, but before landing that job she interned at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma’s Carneros region. She also traveled to Italy and South Africa, with stints at Antinori in Tuscany and Vilafonte, where she learned under Zelma Long, Dr. Phil Freese and Mike Ratcliffe. “The fulfillment of applying my schooling through these tangible experiences continues to reward me throughout the winemaking seasons,” she says.

For the past century, U.C., Davis, located about an hour east of Napa in the northern portion of California’s Sacramento Valley, has been the state’s preeminent institution for viticulture and enology. The university has produced countless graduates who have established successful careers in wine. Throughout its history, U.C., Davis, has been part of significant industry research and practices, which are now standard, including the use of stainless steel tanks and temperature-controlled fermentation.

Today, the university’s assets include 80 acres of on-campus teaching vineyards, encompassing 216 different grape varieties. Its environmentally advanced research winery includes 152 stainless steel, programmable fermentors. In addition, the LEED Platinum winery has a rainwater-capture system and equipment designed to sequester carbon dioxide captured from winery fermentations and convert it into calcium carbonate. “Introducing sustainability ideas can help normalize them as things change rapidly in this industry, and hopefully the students are learning the future of winemaking, so there’s a faster transition once in they’re in the real world,” says Professor David E. Block, who serves as the chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Block says that in an average year, about 40 undergraduates graduate from the program, along with 15 Master’s students. He says he has been working closely with Wine Spectator to fund as many students as possible over the past few years. As a result, 25 scholarships were granted in 2020 and 24 in 2021—nearly half of the expected graduating class. The amounts ranged from $2,000 to $20,000 annually.

Dan Goldfield, partner and winemaker at Dutton-Goldfield in Russian River Valley, was one of the first scholarship recipients. A 1986 graduate, he recalls cobbling together his finances for his graduate studies. “I don’t remember the amount, but I know I was thrilled at the time,” he laughs.

Goldfield believes that the scholarship and viticulture and enology program enduring and growing stronger is paramount for the wine industry. “The more young dynamic folks you have, the more the industry moves ahead,” he says.

“Keeping [U.C.,] Davis strong is important for our part of the industry,” says Goldfield, who is a proponent of formal winemaking education. “You learn by craft, not by science, but the better you know your science, the better your craft gets over time.” —Aaron Romano

Industry Leaders of the Future

Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute

 Students walking in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University in California
The Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State has given wine students a needed hub. (Fabian Jauregui)

Three years ago, Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., celebrated the opening of the Wine Spectator Learning Center: a 15,000-square-foot home for students enrolled in its Wine Business Institute. The building is filled with spacious lecture halls, classrooms, offices and meeting spaces for graduate and undergraduate students learning lessons to help take the business side of the wine industry into the future.

“What the building gave us was a home, a hub. It all happens here now,” says Ray Johnson, executive director of the institute, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Before the opening of the Wine Spectator Learning Center, classes and seminars were held in rooms scattered around the campus as well as at venues in Napa County, which offered little in the way of community feeling.

Today, the facilities are expansive and airy, with interior spaces filled with the latest in computer-assisted educational technology, windows opening out to the verdant campus surroundings, and casual alcoves where students can congregate.

“I can just pinch myself walking around here. This is a legacy,” Johnson adds. The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation donated $3 million of the $9.5 million that was eventually used to help build the new home for the institute. “The naming gift of this building was an incredible endorsement of what’s been done here,” Johnson says.

Prior to the pandemic, from 60 to 80 full-time students a year were enrolled in the classes held in the building (the 2021 fall classes will be a hybrid of on-site and online offerings) to complete coursework for bachelor’s, master’s or executive MBA degrees. Hundreds of others annually have taken seminars as part of eight- to 10–week certificate programs, the most popular being one entitled Wine Entrepreneurship, according to Johnson.

For those already working in the wine industry, the MBA program helps them beef up their managements skills in running a winery and gain valuable credentials in a highly competitive industry. Students come from both the business and production side; the 17-month program just broke its record for the number of new students, with 22 enrolled this fall. A key focus of the program is to instill leadership skills in course participants.

“For me, the leadership component of the entire program was my favorite; and that is where I think I did most of my growing,” says Alison Surgeon, director of sales at Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley. “It’s a lot of self-reflection and personal developmental growth—what are your strengths and weaknesses,” she explains. “There are personality assessments, and they really ask you to look at the world through another person’s eyes.”

Another key component of the curriculum is team-building, which includes a long weekend in San Diego learning how to sail with three to four other members of the program. “I know everyone who has gone through the program comes out on the other side a different person,” Surgeon adds.

Josh Widaman, recently named estate winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa Valley, graduated from the MBA program in 2019. He says that the Learning Center allowed him to hone his communication skills through various media, including PowerPoint presentations. There were also lessons on website design. “Everybody loved the facility, and it really helped us from a learning perspective because it was so state-of-the-art,” Widaman says. “I found in my career that I’d be in a controller’s or CFO’s office and when it came to numbers, my mind would go blank,” he explains. “I wanted to go into those offices with a feeling that when sat down and given a sheet of numbers, I could see those numbers working.”

In the end, Widaman credits the program in advancing his career. “A number of things about the MBA program helped me gain this position—you have to show you can be useful when tough discussions are happening.”

The Wine Business Institute was founded in 1996 as the first academic program in the United States to offer degrees related to the business aspect of the wine industry. Instrumental in its founding were local vintners and industry leaders, most notably Gary Heck of Korbel Vineyards, who later also donated $1 million to help build the new home for the institute, which is part of Sonoma State’s School of Business and Economics.

The WBI’s faculty includes eight full-time instructors who also teach regular business classes, and two dozen adjunct professors drawn from the wine industry. “I’m sure that it will become a busier space in North America [for wine business studies].” Johnson says.—Kim Marcus

Casting a Wide Net

The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has provided grants and scholarships to projects both big and small, ranging from food kitchens to wine history documentary projects to diversity outreach. Here are some of the deserving programs included in the past 40 years.

Fostering a Future in Wine

Florida International University
Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management is a leading institution for food and beverage education. It received a $1 million gift in 2013 to help create the Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory. The lab allows students to learn and practice restaurant management and beverage service techniques in a state-of-the-art, restaurantlike facility. The school’s hospitality program, rated among the best in the nation, has more than 1,500 students in undergraduate and graduate programs at its North Miami campus.

Washington State University
Washington State University’s Viticulture & Enology program received a $1 million contribution in 2017. Half the money went to completing the $23 million teaching labs and facilities at the school’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center located in Richland, Wash. The remaining $500,000 funds viticulture and enology student scholarships. In recognition of the Scholarship Foundation’s gift, the atrium of the Wine Science Center was named the Wine Spectator Atrium.

Roots Fund
This nonprofit organization is devoted to securing a pathway for members of Black, indigenous and Latinx communities into the wine business, providing support through educational scholarships, mentorships and job placement. The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation donated $100,000, which was used to fund 17 scholarships in fall 2020.

Glancy Wine Education Foundation
This program, dedicated to assisting disadvantaged and minority students pursuing education in wine professions, received a $100,000 contribution from the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation in early 2021. The money provides scholarships for more than 30 students during this most difficult time in the hospitality industry through the certifications offered at San Francisco Wine School.

Culinary Institute of America
The venerable food and wine school in Hyde Park, N.Y., received a $167,000 donation for the Wine Spectator Tasting Room.

Helping Hospitality Workers and Less Fortunate

Conscious Collection: A Virtual Fine Wine & Spirits Auction
The restaurant industry and its employees have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation kick-started this auction and fundraiser with a $100,000 donation, joining with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Zachys and celebrity chef Guy Fieri for an April 9 online auction. The virtual event raised a total of $1.6 million for America’s hospitality industry and benefitted the Barstool Fund.

Emeril Lagasse Foundation
As a co-sponsor of Lagasse’s Carnivale du Vin, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has helped raise more than $13 million for children’s charities that focus on education, homelessness, nutrition and food banks, mental health, and a culinary garden and teaching kitchen, among other worthy causes.

World Central Kitchen
Chef José Andrés started World Central Kitchen in 2010 to help feed the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and it served more than 4 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. To date, World Central Kitchen has launched feeding missions in 13 countries, serving some 15 million meals.

Andrés has established a reputation for providing food for people in crisis. To support these humanitarian efforts, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation gave $250,000 to WCK in 2020.

Preserving Wine History

University of California at Berkeley Food and Wine Oral History Project
Robert Mondavi, Ernest Gallo and Louis M. Martini are just three of the dozens of California wine pioneers included in this important project. Beginning in 1983, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, with a $394,000 contribution, sponsored a series of recorded oral histories with key figures in the California wine industry.

The historical information and memories are preserved online at bancroft.berkeley.edu. —Tim Fish

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