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Napa Valley College board accepts Wine Spectator’s $10 million gift for wine education center

Napa Valley College has accepted a $10 million gift to its wine education program — and will label its future home with the benefactor’s name.

The board of the two-year community college last week formally accepted the largest donation ever made by the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, a gift first announced in September by the foundation’s namesake magazine. Funding will support an expansion of NVC’s Viticulture, Wine and Technology program as well as construction and expansion at its facilities, which will be named the Wine Spectator Wine Education Complex at the Napa Valley College.

Both the gift and the naming of the wine center won unanimous approval from the seven-member NVC board Thursday night.

Wine Spectator’s donation, which also may include up to $1.2 million of contingency funds, is intended to spark more support of NVC from the wine community, according to editor-publisher Marvin Shanken, who first began traveling to the Napa Valley in the 1970s but said he only became aware of the college’s wine education program about five years ago.

“If there was ever an educational institution poised for significant contributions to the growth of the California wine industry, this is it,” he told the Napa Valley Register in September as the gift was being announced. “It is our hope that the door for learning opens wider for young adults from all walks of life, providing a platform for future leadership in the wine industry.”

Talks between Wine Spectator and the Napa Valley College Foundation about a donation took place over five years, according to the foundation’s executive director Jessica Thomason.

Plans call for building a new sensory classroom and converting an existing space into a wine laboratory for instruction and production. An existing historic building will be overhauled to contain indoor and outdoor areas for teaching hospitality, sales, and marketing, and also will include a public tasting room.

The expansion of the wine education center would take place in three phases, according to plans shared by Thomason with the NVC board.

The first stage, expected to cost $8.15 million, would feature the construction of a 6,080-square-foot sensory classroom with a 100-student space that could be divided into two smaller spaces, and equipped with lighting and acoustic design specially suited to wine sensory classes. A second phase budgeted at $922,395 would include the creation of the wine lab and other lab stations and air purification for tasting instruction, among other improvements.

The third phase would cost $2.15 million and include a rebuilt, seismically sound wine sales training center with indoor and outdoor teaching spaces, as well as both instructional and public tasting rooms and a retail center for the college winery.

In addition to imprinting the Wine Spectator name on the NVC complex, the agreement also will rechristen the facility’s branches after the magazine — its classroom building, laboratory, and tasting room.

A team of advisers from NVC and Wine Spectator have recommended entrusting the project’s design with TLCD Architecture, a Santa Rosa firm that previously planned the college’s library, North Gym, and life sciences buildings, according to Thomason.

NVC’s wine program enrolls 800 to 1,000 students annually at a site that includes a 5-acre vineyard and commercial winery. Students can earn certificates or associate’s degrees in viticulture, enology, and wine marketing and sales, and a majority of students are current wine industry workers seeking to advance their careers.

Created in 1982, Wine Spectator’s foundation has donated more than $20 million in grants and scholarships to help train future wine industry leaders, including support for UC Davis students and for programs at Sonoma State University, Washington State, Cornell University, and the Culinary Institute of America.

Earlier this year, the foundation also donated $100,000 to the Roots Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to open pathways in the wine businesses for students of color.

Thomason of the NVC foundation also said the college is close to announcing another major donation, from the estate of a past donor, “potentially as significant as the Wine Spectator gift,” although no other details were released Thursday.

The wine education center is one of two major additions planned for the main NVC campus on Highway 221 in south Napa. A housing development with apartments and dormitories for more than 500 students, estimated to cost more than $83 million, is scheduled to break ground next spring and open in stages in 2023 and 2024.

You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or

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