The enormous project will be built next to the Crops Unit, on the corner of Mt. Bishop Road and Highland Drive. Hannah Crowley | Mustang News

As of March 15 , Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture Department has raised $13.5 million for the construction of a new on-campus winery and grange hall as of Jan. 30. The department’s ultimate goal of $16 million is in sight. The project will break ground this May and begin construction Summer 2018.

The enormous project will be located next to the current Crop Science building (building 17) on the corner of Mt. Bishop Road and Highland Drive. It will include a 12,079-square-foot hall and three laboratories for viticulture, enology and sensory analysis. The new winery will be a state-of-the-art 15,632-square-foot winery including a 1,000-bottle wine cellar, a fermentation hall, a bottling room, three barrel rooms, a fully functioning research lab, a sample lab and offices for faculty and students.

Director of Facilities for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) Michelle Swanitz said that since the department currently lacks facilities for wine and viticulture students, she is excited to see these two buildings completed. According to Swanitz, Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program is one of just a few in the nation incorporating all three aspects of the winemaking process: viticulture, enology and the business side of the wine industry. Wine industry studies includes marketing, wine law and compliance, and the overall process of getting the grapes from the vine to being sold on the shelves.

“By getting all these winemaking pieces together within these two buildings, it is going to create that much more of a cohesive education for our students,” Swanitz said.

Wine and viticulture junior Kasey Summerfield said she is extremely excited for the new building. While she believes the department is doing the best they can with their limited facilities, she is looking forward to all the new classes and opportunities that are going to come out of this project.

“Although I will be graduated by the time the building is done, I think the new facility is going to give wine and viticulture students so much more of an opportunity to be hands-on in the winemaking process,” Summerfield said.

Wine and Viticulture department head Benoît Lecat said Cal Poly will be able to offer the nation’s premier wine and viticulture bachelor program with the new facility. The department plans on adding more science-based classes to the curriculum, internationalizing the program through visiting professors and research and study abroad trips, and developing extended education opportunities to deliver more services to the community, according to Lecat.

The department currently produces three different types of wine: student-made wine for learning, commercial wine and faculty and student research wine. The new facility will accommodate all three different wine processes. Student-made wine for learning is not offered for sale as it is made for the sole purpose of educating students. Commercial wine is made to be sold and is currently made off campus at Chamisal Vineyards in San Luis Obispo by student winemaker interns. Once this new facility is running, these winemakers will be able to move the commercial winemaking process to campus. Lastly, research wine is made by students mostly for senior projects. This wine is not for sale by Cal Poly, but is occasionally given out at events or as a “thank you” to donors.

“We are not selling commercial wine to make a profit, we don’t ever want to produce so that we are competing with our industry partners here or other local wineries. We are doing it just to cover expenses and to give that next level of Learn by Doing experience in the internship world,” Swanitz said.

For the most part, the new facility will only be used by Cal Poly faculty and students, but the grange hall will allow the department to throw events for the college or other wineries in the area.

Swanitz said the new sensory lab will be a major improvement. A sensory lab is where wine is tasted and tested in a panel setting. With the new formal sensory lab, the department will be able to bring in a panel from outside to test Cal Poly wine or products from outside wineries.

The department was able to raise most of its money by traveling up and down the coast to visit some of the major wine regions in California, including Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles putting on receptions and giving presentations in those regions to inform attendees on what Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program is trying to accomplish. Cal Poly alumni Troy and Basia Gillespie — who farm almonds, prunes, raisins and wine grapes in Madera County — gave the department $1.2 million towards the project. Additionally, professor emeritus Paul Fountain collectively donated $250,000 toward the project. Jerry Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards has also contributed. Lohr, who is also an adviser to the project, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to the facility as well. According to the Communications Specialist for CAFES AnnMarie Cornejo, Lohr has been a key supporter as a donor, volunteer and the fundraising committee chair. 

“In addition, he has worked closely with the architect and design build company to ensure the center will provide all that it can to benefit students,” Cornejo said.

The goal is to inform the industry about the wine and viticulture department and the importance of the center for Wine and Viticulture. According to Lecat, Cal Poly’s bachelor program is graduating more industry-ready professionals than any other university because they are teaching their students about viticulture, enology and the business side to the wine industry. Whereas most other universities have their students focus on just one of the three for their degree. This means the industry will be seeing more Cal Poly graduates than those from any other institution, Lecat said.  

The department is still hoping to receive equipment donations for the facility that will ultimately bring it closer to its goal.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Jerry Lohr and Paul Fountain collectively donated $250,000. It has been changed to include their individual donations. 

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