140th Anniversary Alumni Celebration 2021

Alumni Celebration Collage

On December 3, 2021, we finally got the chance (after several attempts) to celebrate the 140th Anniversary of the Department of Viticulture and Enology with approximately 150 people in attendance-only a year and a half after we intended!  The morning started with Department Chair David Block presenting a brief history (with pictures from the University Farm and Picnic Days) and the impact the department has had on the California and global grape and wine industries since its start in 1880.  With respect to impact, Dr. Block highlighted two key examples of research projects (Chardonnay clone selection and TCA detection) that yielded ROIs of billions of dollars (determined by studies undertaken by Dan Sumner, Frank H. Buck, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Davis).  Professor Block also highlighted the productivity and impact of the department over the years.  UC Davis has had twice the publications and three times the citations when compared to any other academic institutions studying grapes and wine.  We have also produced curricula and textbooks that are the standard for educating students all over the world and produced alumni that are leaders and innovators in the California grape and wine industry and beyond.  Our extension program is unique and has been expanded to offer ten times the programs it did just 10 years ago.  Finally, Professor Block recounted the success of our department’s Broadening Horizons program that increased the percent of underrepresented minorities from under 5% to over 25% in the last 10 years-a great start to an effort that we are further expanding over the next three years.

Jon Moramarco (Managing Partner, BW 166) then gave attendees a summary of the state of the beer, wine, and spirits industries-how we got to where we are today.  He talked about the shift in what the legal drinking age population was drinking through the mid-sixties (fortified wines) to higher quality table wines, which was driven by the department through research into the use of refrigeration and stainless steel.  He talked about the unprecedented growth from 1993-2016, following the maturation of the baby boomers. He ended by showing the change in the make-up of the Legal Drinking Age population and mentioned that people in the wine business will have to figure out how the market is changing for them and find those new opportunities to remain competitive. 

The next item on the agenda was the alumni winemaker panel and tasting, moderated by MaryAnn Worobiec (Senior Editor (and recently appointed Napa Bureau Chief) of the Wine Spectator).  This session not only highlighted a few of our creative alumni, but also celebrated our 40-year partnership with Wine Spectator whose foundation has given over $4 million worth of Wine Spectator scholarships to more than 900 students in our program.  Each one of the presenters received support from a Wine Spectator Scholarship while studying at UC Davis.  MaryAnn introduced the four alumni winemakers (each representing a different decade) each of whom talked about how their education at UC Davis influenced their winemaking style.  The overarching theme was that UC Davis provided the tools (academic knowledge and problem-solving skills), which then has given them the freedom to create (knowing the boundaries). It also has provided them with a network of friends and colleagues who they can call to ask a technical question or just meet as friends for dinner:

  1. Nick Dokoozlian poured a Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi that is soon to be released. 
  2. Helen Keplinger shared the 2019 Keplinger Lithic
  3. Rebekah Wineburg shared the 2019 Illumination Sauvignon blanc by Quintessa
  4. Martha Stoumen poured a 2019 Nero d’Avola

The morning finished with presentations from our newest faculty members.  Each Ted-style talk described their vision for the future of research in their areas of expertise.  Ben Montpetit spoke about, “Diversity: fueling the future of fermentation using wild, designed, and yet to be discovered yeasts”.  Ron Runnebaum spoke about the future of sustainable winemaking, Megan Bartlett talked about designing stress-tolerant grapevines using a deep understanding of physiology, and Mason Earles talked about introducing artificial intelligence and deep learning into vineyard operations. 

During lunch, attendees enjoyed visiting with other alumni, faculty, and current students.  They shared stories and we poured wine that was donated by alumni (Thank you to all who donated!).  Attendees could choose to sit either indoors, or outside-the weather cooperated, and it was truly a beautiful day in Davis.  After lunch, attendees could choose a tour of the winery and vineyard, more faculty discussions (Anita Oberholster, Kaan Kurtural, and Dario Cantu) or chatting with other graduates from their cohort.  In addition, DEVO (the UCD V and E student group) and Gabriella Fontanesi (a recent alumna) were involved in encouraging attendees to sign up for a newly formed alumni association.  If you are interested in joining, you can contact the current DEVO President, Andrew Misialek, at amisialek@ucdavis.edu.