With a historic Napa Valley ranch for a backdrop, officials of UC Davis revealed one of the larger gifts in the institution's history this afternoon. They announced that $12.5 million has been earmarked for the rising Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science from the estate of Napa Valley native Louise Rossi.
The money, from the sale of the Rossi family's 52-acre Rutherford ranch to Frog's Leap Winery earlier this year, will be used to underwrite research focused on improving sustainable farming practices and on enhancing the flavor of grapes and wine, said university authorities.
Early expenditures are to be for equipment in the new institute, the first phase of which is to be finished next June.
Louise Rossi died in February at 99. She and her brother Ray, who in 1930 earned a two-year degree certificate in agriculture on the Davis campus when it was called the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture, had been longtime supporters of UC Davis. In 1979 they'd established the Rossi Prize to help viticulture and enology students from Napa Valley. Ray Rossi died in 1997 at 91.
To honor the gift, university officials said they will name the terrace to overlook the institute's central courtyard after Ray and Louise Rossi.
Their parents, Ferdinando (Fred) Rossi and Rachel Sculatti, immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s from Switzerland and Italy, respectively. Ferdinando's brother, Antone Rossi, had bought property on the east side of Napa Valley and begun to grow grapes and run a wine cellar in 1879. Eventually, the winery closed and the family concentrated on growing grapes and selling the fruit to Napa Valley wineries.
"Wines have been made from this piece of earth for more than 100 years, and my family and I were very pleased that Louise saw fit to allow Frog's Leap to acquire it," said the winery's owner, John Williams, in a prepared statement.