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Alumni Celerbration and Winery Groundbreaking Drew a Huge Crowd

Friday, May 15 was a day for the record books here at The Department of Viticulture and Enology.  We invited all our alumni back for a first-ever Alumni Celebration and combined that event with the official groundbreaking for our new winery, which construction will begin soon.  The day was festive and fun and the weather cooperated beautifully.  It was the first time many had seen the Department's new home, and all were very impressed with the new face.

The photograph at right was taken by T J Ushing at the actual winery groundbreaking.  All decades of present-day alumni were represented in this photo.  From left, the shovel-handlers included 1) Dr Andrew Waterhouse, Chair of the Department and Master of Ceremonies for the day, 2) Ralph Kunkee, Professor Emeritus, a familiar and much-loved fixture here, 3) Helen Coniglio, representing graduates of the current decade of the 2000s, 4) John Franzia, a graduate representing alumni of the 1960s, 5) Chik Brenneman, our winemaker and vineyard manager, alum MS 2000, 6) Zelma Long, alum representing those from the 1970s, 7) MaryAnn Graf, the Department's first female grdauate from 1965, 8) Vern Singleton, Professor Emeritus and well-known to the whole crowd, 9) Leticia Chacon-Rodriquez, alum representing graduates of the 1990s, 10) Judy Matulich-Weitz, representing 1980s graduates, 11) Dave Block, Vice Chair of the Department and Professor in both V&E and Engineering, without whose expert guidance the RMI would not have been possible, and 12) the person responsible for this huge effort to make the new winery LEED Platinum, Roger Boulton, who conceived and carried out his vision enthusiastically and skillfully.

The day began with discussions about the Robert Mondavi Institute and the Department's new mission. Speakers included Dr Waterhouse, who talked about a new vision and spirit of cooperation between V&E and our graduates, and the wine industry.  Our reference librarian, Axel Borg, who has an amazing way of drawing listeners into history in a colorful and personal way, gave a short but lively account of the earlier days.  Dave Block talked about the planning and construction of the beautiful buildings here, the results of which were obvious to all who attended. Hildegarde Heymann, also an alumna and currently our Professor of Sensory Science, talked about how these new buildings and labs have impacted both her teaching and her research, with new sensory labs that are state of-the-art.  Jim Wolpert spoke about the new direction of viticulture and how the vineyards adjacent to the RMI will expand our knowledge of rootstocks.  The program concluded with a discussion by Roger Boulton of the new LEED Platinum winery, which will completely change the nature and quality of each students' experience in V & E.  They will actually be able to experience what it means to produce wine in a facility that has no carbon footprint at all.  This will most certainly give all our students a unique and valuable familiariaty with the technology that will characterize the industry in the coming years; a foot up, if you will.

The groundbreaking was a great success.  We picked an alum to represent each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s, along with Emeriti and Department officials to actually turn the ground. Lots of fun was had and lots of photos were shot.

The rest of the day was an open house of sorts, with lunch served by The Buckhorn, a local institution for great food.  All the wine donated at the door was poured (and there were some very amazing entries there) for attendees in the olive garden, and tours of the North Building, the Sensory Building and the vineyard were conducted each half-hour til closing.

A great time was had by all, and we really appreciated the opportunity to see so many alumni, representing almost fifty years altogether.  It was meant to be a day to welcome our alumni back, and they have said they liked the idea and the event.  We'll certainly do it again in the future..................