Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Community Interest” November 2008.
Student Winery Goes Public
Bonding Means Napa Valley College Can Sell Wines
By Louisa Hufstader
Napa Valley College students have been cultivating grapes and making wine since the 1980s, but this year’s harvest is the first that they will bottle and market as their own vintage: In September, 2008, the college received its federal and state permits to sell the wines created by its students. We can expect to see a 2008 chardonnay, picked in September, for sale in about 15 to 18 months, according to college officials. Ultimately, the college plans to produce five wines in two price series: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and a cabernet sauvignon blend.
“Napa Valley College now has the first and only bonded winery in the California Community College system,” says college president Chris McCarthy. “The profits from the sale of the wines that our students make will help support the operations of the Viticulture and Winery Technology instructional program.”
That’s much-needed money. For more than 20 years, the viticulture and winemaking program has subsisted on a mixture of vintner donations (cash and equipment) and grape sales to commercial wineries. But with the opening of the Napa Valley Vintners-financed teaching winery in 2002, more of the campus grapes have been needed for student winemaking, leaving less of the crop to sell. “It was essential to get bonded,” says Viticulture and Winery Technology program coordinator Stephen Krebs.
Essential—but far from easy. State legislation was required before the college could even begin to seek an operating bond, which covers the tax value of the wine. Passed in 2005, that bill was just the start of what proved to be an excruciating three-year journey through “Alice in Wonderland” territory, as Krebs puts it. “We had to form a foundation to be the bond applicant, and then there had to be by-laws,” he recalls, detailing some of the many steps in the process.
Just approving the name of the foundation—the acronym-proof Napa Valley College Viticulture and Winery Technology Foundation—took two months, says Krebs: “Everything had to be approved by the college board of trustees. They don’t do anything on the first reading, and they meet once a month.” Once named, the foundation needed a business license from the city of Napa, which also required it to obtain federal tax-exempt status by becoming a 501(c)(3) organization. Krebs, who had once hoped the winery would be bonded in 2006, “stopped holding my breath a couple of years ago,” he says.
Now that the college has finally received its bond, Krebs says the first step will be to join the Napa Valley Vintners. That association built the college’s teaching winery, and although it may now appear that NVC is gearing up to compete with its patrons, Krebs doesn’t see his students’ “little tiny 500 cases” taking business away from other Napa Valley wineries.
But make no mistake, the college’s vintners-in-training are not the equivalent of student drivers. Of some 1,000 people who take courses in the Viticulture and Winery Technology program each year, may are already working in the industry; others are planning to transfer to four-year colleges like the University of California, Davis, before establishing their careers.
“They’re totally focused on making a perfect wine, from step one in the vineyard all the way through,” says Krebs, who has headed the program since 1986. “They’re intensely dedicated to doing everything right.”
The Viticulture and Winery Technology Foundation is starting an e-mail list to alert consumers interested in buying the college wines once they are available in 2010. To sign up, send a message to email@example.com.