Cal Poly Alumni Pledge $1.2 Million to Support Cal Poly's Proposed Wine and Viticulture Center

January 22, 2016
Contact: AnnMarie Cornejo
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly alumni Troy and Basia Gillespie, longtime agriculturalists in California’s Central Valley, have pledged $1.2 million to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences’ new Center for Wine and Viticulture.
The gift will help fund a new viticulture lab that is planned as part of the center. 
Basia Gillespie’s parents started farming raisins 30 years ago in Madera County. Today the family grows almonds, prunes, raisins and wine grapes.
“We know the value of viticulture and want to invest in its future because it is so important that students go down that path,” said Troy Gillespie. “You need good, quality grapes to make good wine, and Cal Poly’s hands-on style of teaching is invaluable to the future of the industry.”
Cal Poly’s new Center for Wine and Viticulture will feature a commercial-grade, bonded winery and learning facility that will provide students a holistic understanding of the wine and viticulture industries -- from the vineyard to wine marketing and distribution.
“We are stepping forward and putting our pledge down in the hope of inspiring others to do the same,” Gillespie said. “This is our way of shepherding the dream to a reality.”
The couple’s daughter, Courtney, is a wine and viticulture senior at Cal Poly. Their son, Austin, is studying business at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
The nearly 40,000-square-foot bonded winery will include crush, fermentation, bottling and barrel rooms, plus teaching and meeting facilities. There will also be sensory, enology and viticulture teaching labs and commercial and catering kitchens and university and public meeting spaces.
“The Cal Poly Center for Wine and Viticulture will be a model for the hands-on learning for which Cal Poly is known,” said Andrew Thulin, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “With the visionary support of generous individuals and families like the Gillespies, we will soon have a world-class facility for teaching the next generation of wine professionals.”
The center will complement the university’s existing 14-acre teaching and commercial vineyard that produces chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and tempranillo grapes. The center is currently being designed, and construction is expected to begin within the next couple of years.
In September, viticulture and fruit science Professor Emeritus Paul Fountain donated $250,000 to the Wine and Viticulture Department to make improvements to the teaching vineyard.
The department’s other notable supporters include Jerry Lohr, owner of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, who supports Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program as an advisor and through his generous gifts for the Center for Wine and Viticulture. His own vineyards in Monterey, Napa Valley and Paso Robles frequently employ Cal Poly students and alumni.
To join the effort in taking the next big step for Cal Poly’s Center for Wine and Viticulture, contact Grant Kirkpatrick, director of development, at 805-756-2173 or
About Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture Department
Cal Poly first planted grapes on campus three decades ago. The Wine and Viticulture Department was formally established in 2013-14 in response to the growing wine industry’s need for qualified professionals with a thorough understanding of crop science, fruit science, food science, chemistry and agribusiness.Today, Cal Poly boasts the largest wine and viticulture program of its kind in the nation. It is the only program to emphasize the three major elements of the wine industry: grape-growing, winemaking and the business aspect.
About Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences
Cal Poly is a nationally ranked, comprehensive polytechnic university. The university’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences is comprised of expert faculty members who take pride in their ability to transform academically motivated students into innovative professionals ready to solve the complex challenges associated with feeding the world in sustainable ways. Students have access to state-of-the-art laboratories, including ranchland, orchards, vineyards and forests, all of which provide the basis for Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing methodology. It is the fifth largest college of agriculture in the country with 4,000 undergraduate students.

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