Blockbuster Gift Bolsters Oregon Wine Program

Linfield College gets $6 million from Domaine Serene Winery founders

by Peter Mitham

Ryan Harris (left) and Grace Evenstad and Dave Baca toast the Evenstads' gift to Linfield College.

McMinnville, Ore.—The interdisciplinary wine studies program at Linfield College will now operate from the Grace and Ken Evenstad Center for Wine Education following a $6 million gift from the founders of Domaine Serene Winery in nearby Dayton.

The gift, the largest single donation to a wine studies program in the state, will also fund a chair in wine studies named for Grace and Ken Evenstad, who established Domaine Serene just north of McMinnville in the Dundee Hills in 1989. Greg Jones, who joined Linfield College last year as the wine studies program’s director, will be the first appointment to the chair.

Linfield has made a name for itself as host of the 32-year-old International Pinot Noir Celebration, and in 2016 hosted the International Terroir Congress for its first meeting in North America. Linfield is also home to the Oregon wine history archive. It offers certificate programs in wine business and marketing and a minor in wine studies that can be paired with other academic programs, and is in the process of developing a standalone major set to launch this fall.

The combination of past achievements and future ambitions made the program a natural outlet for the Evenstads, who have employed several Linfield students at Domaine Serene. When they sat down with Linfield president Tom Hellie as well as Greg Jones, Linfield seemed to be the best place to make a donation that would benefit the Oregon wine industry as a whole.

Thomas Hellie, president, Linfield College (left); Ryan Harris, president and CEO of Domaine Serene; Grace Evenstad (back to camera); Greg Jones, director of Linfield’s wine studies program.

“What we realized was there is no other educational institution, in America at least, that’s focussing on the multidisciplinary aspects of wine education,” said Ryan Harris, president and CEO of Domaine Serene, speaking on behalf of the Evenstads. “So many other programs are focused purely on viticulture and enology, … the research side of things, and the major need we see in the industry are in the areas of business, marketing, etc.”

Ellen Brittan, who served more than two years as director of wine education at Linfield prior to Jones’ appointment, says the Evenstads’ gift is testimony to college’s long-term vision for its role within the industry.

“There’s been a lot of groundwork over the years to build [Linfield] into a critical mass of dedication and contribution to wine education,” she says. “Linfield has earned its reputation by all the various programs and activities that they’ve done over the years to say, ‘We are committed to this vision.’”

She also credited Tom Hellie with lending special impetus to a unique vision for Linfield. Hellie is stepping down after 12 years as president, but his contributions to the industry were recognized at the recent Oregon Wine Symposium with the Oregon Wine Board’s industry partner award, which “honors those who significantly assist in the growth and success of the industry and its members.”

Oregon Wine Board president Tom Danowski told Wines & Vines that Hellie’s vision combined with the generosity of the Oregon wine industry are a shining example of the collaboration needed to advance the sector.

“The Evenstads’ generous contribution to Linfield College is the largest of its kind in Oregon and their support of this distinctive wine studies program makes me really proud to be part of a state and industry that supports developing the next generation of wine professionals,” he said.

While funding for land grant universities is bound up in government budget allocations and a quest for matching funds and competition for research dollars, private schools have greater leeway to appeal directly to donors. A teaching focus also means they’re not necessarily competing for research funds.

“It’s a very innovative way to look at wine education, and it seems to resonate with so many people because they realize that not everybody wants to be a scientist, and not everybody wants to be an accountant, and there’s so many other ways to become part of the industry,” Brittan said.

Harris said the hope is that the Evenstads’ gift will encourage other donors to step forward. Linfield is developing a new $40 million life sciences building that will include a wine laboratory named for the Evenstads, and funding for an endowed chair in wine business is also being sought.

“This is our opportunity to step up and we’re very proud to be able to do so,” Harris said. “The hope by both Ken and Grace, and also by Linfield, is that this starts to open the door for additional gifts either from within industry or from outside of it.”

The several recent coups for Linfield’s wine studies program are reshaping the Oregon wine industry.
Jones’ departure from Southern Oregon University last summer was a win for Linfield, but also saw the industry’s annual winery and vineyard census delegated to the University of Oregon.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Wine Research Institute (OWRI) at Oregon State University and the Southern Oregon Wine Institute (SOWI) at Umpqua Community College continue to pursue their trajectories.
SOWI continues to benefit from an $800,000 gift Sutherlin attorney Danny Lang made in 2010, which supported completion of the Danny Lang Teaching, Learning and Event Center (see Wines & Vines headline, “Wine Programs on a Budget,” Apr. 15, 2010).

OWRI, meanwhile, continues to develop the Woodhall Vineyard near Alpine, south of Corvallis, that Oregon State acquired from the Baynes family over a 10-year period from 1986 to 1995. The past four years have seen significant upgrades initiated, including additional Pinot Noir plantings, new deer fencing, a septic field and on-site research and teaching facility (see Wines & Vines headline, “Oregon Wine Institute Plans for the Future,” Dec. 10, 2014).

OWRI itself launched with a $2 million gift from the industry as a whole. There’s been nothing of that size since, but program coordinator Mark Chien says the gift Linfield received will have industry-wide benefits.
“It’s a fledgling program, but definitely up and coming, and it’s going to have a neat role in the Oregon sphere of wine education,” he said. “I’m very happy for them.”

Currently no comments posted for this article.