June 25, 2018
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Wine Spectator learning center unveiled

  • Baby grape vines growing outside the new Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University. Katherine Minkiewicz

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
June 1, 2018

After a long year of construction, the state of the art, Wine Spectator Learning Center for wine business studies at Sonoma State University finally opened its doors Tuesday evening during the ceremonial ribbon cutting event, where students, senators and the public were able to get a glimpse of the grand new building.

The ambitious project, which started in June of 2016, aimed to completely transform the University’s old and dated commons building into an attractive and high-tech learning hub with open student commons areas, lush gardens and collaborative spaces for students, faculty and business leaders. With around 300 attendees for the ribbon cutting, all eyes were on the new building, which boasts polished wood surfaces and an open concept feel. 

TLCD Architecture, a firm based out of Santa Rosa that specializes in civic and educational building architecture, took the reins on the design for the building. Incorporated in the design are muted colors such as hues of brown and green and natural elements like brick and stone work. Outside of the building, baby grape vines grow near the side of the modern facility.  

Along with three new high-tech classrooms and the cafe, the center also features the name of Wine Spectator, a naming gift from the magazines’ scholarship foundation. The Wine Spectator is one of the states’ most touted wine review and viticulture magazines and is famous for its Top 100 list of the best wine labels in the state.  

Sonoma State University President, Judy K. Sakaki, Editor and Wine Spectator Publisher, Marvin Shanken, U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson of California’s 5th District and founder of the Congressional Wine Caucus, along with other dignitaries, were present and opened the ceremony with remarks about the symbolic completion of the facility. 

The learning center is the first of its kind in higher education academia as it is the first facility in the world solely dedicated to the study of the wine business according to Ray Johnson, executive director for the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State.  

“This is not only the grand opening of a customized learning environment, it also creates a home for us to execute on our mission to be the educational nucleus of the global wine industry,” Johnson said in a SSU news release.

Sakaki echoed Johnson’s thoughts, saying this was a very important day and event for the campus and the community.

“We are quite pleased to say that Sonoma State is the premier university for the study and research of the business of wine… And this exemplifies our commitment to meet local workforce needs,” Sakaki said.

Thompson voiced that this is indeed a special day as the wine industry is so important for not only California, but for the country in terms of adding over a billion dollars to the economy.

“What you did in bringing this to fruition was incredibly important and it is going to pay off,” Thompson said.

Following the dignitary’s comments, Gary Heck, the president of Korbel Champagne Vineyards who first had the idea for the learning center, joined Sakaki and the crowd in a toast celebrating the facility. 

The completion of the building — which is also the new home of the Wine Business Institute, was partially made possible by generous private donations and naming gifts totaling $11 million.

Interim Dean of the School of Business and Economics, Karen Thompson, Ph.D., said of the effort to make the rebuild of the building possible, “This innovative new learning center represents two decades of collaboration among public and private individuals and organizations who share our vision to be the global leader in wine business education and research… Through the hard work and generosity of our partners, the Wine Business Institute has transitioned to the international stage with a global audience of students…”

Shanken said he is excited to be venturing off on this relationship with Sonoma State.

And as for the popularity and allure of the wine business, Johnson says there has been an uptick in the number of students who want to a pursue a career in the industry which is practically in Sonoma State’s backyard.

“We continue to see growth in interest at home and abroad in all of our wine business programs,” he said.

Nate Weis, director of winemaking at Silver Oak vineyards and alumni of the wine business M.B.A program, said he thinks younger people are indeed becoming more interested in the wine business. 

“It is an enticing business,” Weis said.