Deceased wine and viticulture professor Keith Patterson was everything an aspiring winemaker could want in a mentor. He was knowledgable, positive and passionate about wine, according to his former students. But most of all — they emphasized — he cared about them.
“(He was) the teacher that you knew you would be going to get a beer within the next couple years — or a glass of wine,” wine and viticulture junior Danielle Hollywood said of Patterson, who died on March 21 at age 66. “He didn’t care so much about your grade or your tests, he just had a genuine passion for wine and for wanting to teach us the future of the wine industry.”
Patterson’s struggle with cancer drove him to early retirement at the end of the 2011-12 academic year, but most thought the 16-year teaching veteran would soon be returning to his true passion: inspiring students.
They had never seen Patterson out of his comical, positive demeanor, wine and viticulture senior Catt Hasbrook said, so it was a shock to students when Patterson didn’t overcome his illness.
“It was just absolutely disbelief,” Hasbrook said. “In everything he did, he was such a great rebound. Anything you threw at him, he would throw it right back … That presence being gone was such an absolutely mind-blowing revelation.”
When he was teaching, Patterson would often begin his lectures with a personal story — he had plenty to share from his 40-plus years in winemaking, Hasbrook said. He tried to address students’ questions as they came up, but would leave time at the end to work one-on-one with students on issues they were having, both in and out of the classroom.
The Arkansas native also took time to help students with outside winemaking ventures, Hasbrook said, whether they were for internships or “questionably legal” side projects.
“He believed that it didn’t matter if you were 21 or 121,” she said, “you had the same ability to make a really, really great wine.”
Lectures and office hours were often devoted to more than just what was on the syllabus, Hollywood recalled. She said Patterson gave students more Learn By Doing opportunities than others in the program. He had no reservations, for example, about letting students in Viticulture II make wine, she said, a practice usually reserved for higher-level classes.
Hasbrook said she will remember more than just Patterson’s program development and lectures (which hardly ever lasted the full two hours, she said) though. Instead, she said she remembers him as a man who treated students as equals, despite age differences, and spread a passion for winemaking to the next generation.
“He wouldn’t shy away from the topic (that) we were basically majoring in alcohol,” Hasbrook said. “He owned it, and he made us own it too. He said, ‘You’re majoring in a drink that basically makes people happy. You need to own up to that.’”
Patterson will not just be remembered as a beloved professor, however — he was also instrumental in establishing the Cal Poly wine and viticulture program, now the largest program of its kind in the United States.
Agribusiness professor William Amspacher, who was another driving force behind the major’s creation, said the program was in response to an increased industry demand for more business-savvy viticulture students. But it couldn’t have been done without Patterson, Amspacher said.
“Keith’s passion, his knowledge — we would not be where we are without Keith,” Amspacher said. “I don’t know how to replace Keith.”
But the department has already been faced with doing just that: Patterson was scheduled to teach two classes this spring quarter, but program head Jim Cooper said he was able to find replacements who began teaching Tuesday.
“We didn’t have to cancel any classes,” Cooper said. “So that’s a big deal.”
Patterson’s family is planning a service at their homestead in Santa Margarita for May, but has not yet provided a date, Cooper said.
It is still to be determined if a second memorial will take place on campus.