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U.C. Davis V&E grads off to a promising start



Speaking at U.C. Davis last night before a group of graduating students and faculty was really a thrill. As I told the audience in my opening remarks, to me, UCD’s Viticulture and Enology Department is like the Vatican City—not in a religious sense, of course, but as the spiritual center of winemaking in California, probably in the U.S., and as one of the greatest places to learn winemaking in the whole world.

As a budding wine reporter in the late 1980s and 1990s and on into the 2000s, many were the times I telephoned one of the famous professors there, to interview him or her for a story: Anne Noble, Andy Waterhouse, Mark Kliewer, Carole Meredith, James Wolpert, Linda Bisson, Roger Boulton, James Lapsley, Andrew Walker. These were often for articles of a technical nature, and I was always a little apprehensive that my ignorance of technical topics would bore these learned men and women. But they were patient with me, and I hope I didn’t make too many errors in my reporting!

Even before I was a wine writer, I was reading books by the likes of Maynard Amerine and Vernon Singleton, figures who were as historic, to a wine geek like me, as George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. I knew about Dr. Olmo, who created the “Olmo grape varieties,” although I never had the opportunity to interview him. I was aware of UC Davis’s history, its importance in the evolution of the California wine industry, and how nearly every winemaker I ever met in California seemed to have graduated from there. So in my mind, UC Davis’s V&E Department loomed large, and still does.

Dr. Boulton, who holds the Stephen Sinclair Scott Endowed Chair in Enology Department of Viticulture and Enology, was kind enough to give me an hour of his time. We toured the Robert Mondavi Institute and the nearby Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building,

BoultonDr. Boulton and the Jackson Sustainable Winery

both remarkable structures and centers of study and innovation, and both of them superb testaments to the legacies of two remarkable men. Then it was off to the Sensory Theatre, in the Mondavi Institute,


for our actual tasting and talk. We went through five different clones of Pinot Noir all from the Cambria vineyard, in Santa Maria Valley, and all made identically, so that whatever differences there were had to come from the clones. That was interesting, and served the point of showing how different people discern different things in wine—even people of great education and training. Our conversation about the intricacies of marketing, critics and related topics became so involved that one of the event organizers had to cut it off, because time was up and the official program called for the presentation of awards to some of the top students. But afterwards, they had a most excellent barbecue on the lawn, and fortunately some of us were able to continue the conversation.

What a smart young group of future professional winemakers these grads are. Really brilliant, so well educated and conversant in the world’s wines. And they’re just getting started: most of them are now off to summer internships, in France, Chile, Napa Valley, all over the world—and then to their first jobs. Armed with such an excellent education, and with such smart, inquiring minds, they are a reassurance that the future of winemaking is in good hands.


  1. Bill Stephenson says:

    As part of the Annual Picnic Day festivities at UCD this April, a wine tasting event was held featuring grads from the UCD V&E program at the Mondavi Institute.
    Standouts were Bucher, Bouchaine, Dashe’ and the small-production Mikami (a sublime Zinfandel)

    The event was well attended by UCD grads in a variety of fields and they were treated to wines made or grown (or both) by their fellow alums. You don’t need to be a UCD grad to attend.

    We didn’t attend the tour of the Jackson Building, but from what we heard from those who did it is well worth it.

  2. I need to say some things about Roger Boulton. He has been a driving force in putting together the UCD Research and Teaching Winery, followed by a brewery–and a distillery is in the works. All are to be neutral for energy and water consumption–in other words the facilities generate their own power (solar) and provide their own water (roof-top rainwater collection). All these projects are put together without tapping taxpayers, relying on donations from the private sector.

    A couple of weeks ago Roger addressed the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group, and he basically put out a challenge to us to make our wineries more sustainable—in so doing he has huge credibility provided by the accomplishments in the UCD facilities. Roger was also very emotional, looking around the room and seeing former students at each table.

    On a personal note, about 30 years ago he had the assignment of being my faculty adviser. That must have been challenging to him, as I was attempting to enter the Masters program in Enology with an undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz in Philosophy. My attempt was to go from an education in existentialism and phenomenology to a program that required 9 college level chemistry classes as prerequisites. Roger didn’t laugh me off, but rather helped me through the rigors of the program.

    At the Wine Tech meeting Roger said he was having to face his impending retirement and said that he maybe would take up fishing. Yeah sure, maybe with a thermocouple to blast the suckers out of the water. More likely he will continue to be a revolutionary in the nexus of ideas were we sort out the future of wine production in the context of global climate change.

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