Southwest Wine Center Set to Open

California wine programs announce building projects in Central Coast, Sonoma and Fresno

by Andrew Adams
Students at Yavapai College will use the new Southwest Wine Center to crush the 2014 vintage. Enology director Michael Pierce expects harvest to begin by Aug. 14.

Clarkdale, Ariz.—The new $3 million Southwest Wine Center in the Verde Valley of Arizona is complete, and students should be making wine there this harvest.
Michael Pierce, director of enology at Yavapai College, said he’d be running some mechanical tests on key systems as well as receiving winemaking equipment through the rest of July, but the center is nearly done.

This being the first year, students will only crush 4 tons of grapes, but that will increase over time. (The teaching winery’s full capacity is 3,000 cases.) Pierce said almost all of the winery equipment is coming from Prospero. For more details on the Southwest Wine Center see this report from the September 2012 edition of Wines & Vines.

After a mild winter, Pierce said it looked like Arizona would have an early harvest, but a spell of cooler temperatures slowed grape development down a bit, and he expects to start seeing white grapes harvested by Aug. 14. He said the big relief is the state’s vineyards didn’t suffer any spring frost damage. “Things are looking good, down south there’s a heavy crop load,” he explained.

Located near the new center is a 9-acre vineyard that eventually will expand to 17 acres. Yavapai College has partnered with the University of Arizona to compile vineyard data from the state’s growers to turn the Southwest Wine Center into a repository of information about grape growing in the Southwest. “We’re going to be a little research hub for southwest wine and a resource for growers,” he said.

Pierce, the former winemaker at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, has been in his new post since February. In addition to his work at the college, he also produces about 1,000 cases of his own wine under the brands Bodega Pierce and Saeculum Cellars. He gets his grapes from his parents’ 27-acre vineyard near Willcox, Ariz.

He said he wants students at the Southwest Wine Center to be able to leave the college and be able to get to work in winemaking or grapegrowing right away. “We focus on being able to make the student stand on their own two feet in the cellar, to make them employable,” he said.

In addition to the winery and vineyard, the center also features a student-run tasting room. All of the 60 students in the program are from Arizona, but Pierce said the goal is to expand the school’s draw to include the entire Southwest region. All the winemaking and viticulture classes are full, with waiting lists of people looking to break into the business or just learn more about wine.

Pierce, an Arizona native, studied winemaking at the University of California, Davis, and Washington State University but would have preferred to stay closer to home. “I’m excited for it,” he said of the new wine center. “If it had been here 10 years ago, I would have loved the opportunity to stay in Arizona.”

U.S. wine programs
Several other wine education centers in the western United States are either being built or expanding.

In California’s Central Coast region, Allan Hancock College is putting the final touches on a 1,500-square-foot teaching winery that is part of the community college’s larger $17.6 million Industrial Technology Complex. Students at the college’s viticulture and enology program will make wine with grapes grown on the school’s 4-acre vineyard, and the department is currently getting all its paperwork in order to legally sell its student-made wine.

More than 500 students are enrolled in the school’s wine and viticulture program headed up by Alfredo Koch, who holds a masters from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and a Ph.D. from UC Davis. Koch also owns a vineyard in his native Argentina.

A 100-point donation to Sonoma State
A $3 million gift to the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., will go a long way toward funding that institute’s new building as well as help the school connect with the international wine industry.

Earlier this month the news broke that Marvin Shanken, the owner and publisher of Wine Spectator magazine, is donating $3 million to SSU through the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.

Ray Johnson, director of the wine business institute, said the donation is a huge help toward securing the $8 million to $10 million needed to build the institute’s new home, which will bear the name Wine Spectator Learning Center. He said the center would feature classrooms designed to connect students in Rohnert Park with wine industry experts in France, Italy or China and vice versa.

Johnson said fundraising for the institute’s new building kicked off with a $1 million donation from Gary Heck, owner of Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, Calif. He said Walt Klenz, one of the founders of Vincraft Group, and Ron Rubin, owner of River Road Family Vineyards & Winery in Sebastopol, Calif., reached out to Shanken about a possible donation to SSU. “These men have stayed in touch over the years, and they suggested to (Shanken) to look at SSU,” Johnson said. “Over time they created this for us. It’s the guys like that and the men and women on our board of directors who really open the doors for us.”

The new home of SSU’s institute will encompass 15,000 square feet and is expected to be finished in 2016. Johnson said the new center would be built in an existing building that will be refurbished to the institute’s plans. Johnson said the institute is very happy to be associated with Wine Spectator. He said he personally learned quite a bit about wine and wine business back when he was in retail and read the old newspaper format of the publication and knows countless other wine professionals have continued to learn from it over the decades. “It’s a great endorsement given their more global view and I have to say we really embrace it and feel very blessed,” he said.

New center in Fresno
In mid June, officials at California State University, Fresno, held a groundbreaking for the school’s new $24 million Jordan Research Center expected to be built by the fall of 2015. The school is paying for the 30,000-square-foot building with the largest donation in its history: a $29.4 million gift from the family of Hanabul “Bud” Jordan, his wife Dee and brother Lowell. Bud Jordan ran a construction firm in the San Francisco, Calif., area, and Lowell ran the family’s ranch in nearby Dublin, Calif. Both men died in the early 2000s. The university announced the donation, which stemmed from the April 2009 sale of the Jordan ranch.

Dee Jordan attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the building designed to be a collaborative hub of research for the agricultural sciences, technology, engineering, science and mathematics.

The three-story building will feature rooms for lectures as well as labs for sensory analysis, microbiology, plant pathology and other various subjects such as robotics, water modeling, genomics and entomology.

Charles Boyer, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, said the center is designed to be flexible and accommodate a variety of research projects. “Flexible space will allow us to respond to emerging opportunities and needs,” he said.

Boyer said he expects the Department of Viticulture and Enology will use space at the center to complement its ongoing research into winemaking as well as share the sensory lab with the school’s food science program. “It is our long-term vision to expand our faculty in sensory science with a shared model between the two departments,” he said.

Work continues on the $23 million Wine Science Center at the Washington State University satellite campus in the Tri-Cities region. The 40,000-square-foot center is expected to be complete in 2015 and will feature a winery, research labs and greenhouse.

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