Magazine article Sunset

So You Want to Be a Winemaker? Take It from One Scientist Turned Vintner: You Can Make It Happen through a Local Community College

Magazine article Sunset

So You Want to Be a Winemaker? Take It from One Scientist Turned Vintner: You Can Make It Happen through a Local Community College

Article excerpt

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN the desk job and retirement, there's a dream. For Walt Brooks, a longtime NASA scientist, that plan B fantasy was to make wine. Walt and his wife, Bernie, fell in love with wine when they moved from New York to Northern California in the 1970s. But the desire to act on the passion became personal; a couple of friends passed away too early, and, says Brooks, "I realized I didn't want to die at my desk."

Brooks's purchase of 5 Napa Valley acres, with a rundown house and 2 1/2 acres of vines, put the dream in his sights. A few vines don't turn one into a vintner, however. "I needed a way to catch up after 40 years of not doing this!" says Brooks, now 67. With a PhD in physics and a master of science in management from Stanford, he "caught up" through the Napa Valley College Viticulture and Winery Technology Program. "At first I thought one of the universities would give me more cred," he admits. But his brother, Larry, who was already a winemaker, told him that what he needed wasn't an education heavy on theory, but rather hands-on experience--"more vintages and wines to play with."

And that's just what Napa Valley College--one of a handful of community colleges in the West with bonded wineries--offers. "We cover everything from the soil to when the guest consumes the wine," says program coordinator Paul Gospodarczyk, who cites a surge in interest in the program. This is inclusive education: "Our students range in age from 18 to 75," he says. "We'll take anyone who signs up." Translation: no nail-biting wait for an acceptance letter. …

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