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January 23, 2007
Aggie Wines? Davis Punts

California has two powerhouse universities to train winemakers - California State University, Fresno, and the University of California, Davis.

They're competitive, but apparently they won't compete head to head to see which campus turns out the best winemakers as measured by the number of gold medals their wines win.

Fresno State, see, has a commercial winery whose wines do well on the competition circuit and in the marketplace, at least in the Fresno area.

UC Davis is preparing to build a teaching and research winery, but that facility won't be used to make commercial wines if the view of Andrew Waterhouse prevails. He's the interim chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. In reply to the final question of today's opening general session of the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Waterhouse made clear his opposition to commercial wines from a campus winery, a notion that periodically has been floated.

"I'm not sure it would complement our educational mission," Waterhouse told a few hundred conference registrants in a ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Sacramento.

Afterwards, he elaborated on why he feels commercial wines from a campus winery would distract from rather than add to the university's goals of education and research. It would require the hiring of a director to run it, and it would compete with the growing number of privately owned wineries trying to gain a niche in the marketplace, said Waterhouse. While Aggie wines might be a terrific public-relations tool, the department doesn't need that sort of exposure, given its already high profile, he added.

Waterhouse also suggested that commercial wines from a campus winery could end up hurting the program. "If the wines weren't great all the time we'd be dinged for it."

In short, don't look for the Notre Dame of wine education to field a team any time soon.

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