College’s Shone Farm also gearing up on olive oil, other products
SANTA ROSA — Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm Winery, part of the community college’s winemaking and viticulture training program, has teamed up with a new collective tasting room in the city to provide a higher-profile venue for the school’s award-winning wines and eventually other planned packaged agricultural products from the 365-acre west Sonoma County property.
Dino D’Argenzio, a commercial real estate agent with Keegan & Coppin, and his wife, Maria, donated to the Shone Farm Winery and Foundation one of the 10 tasting-room spots, valued at $12,000 to $15,000 a year, in The Wineyard, one of the wine, food and beer businesses D’Argenzio Family Properties has been creating at Vintners Square, a retail and industrial center on Cleveland Avenue south of Coddingtown Mall.
Shone Farm Winery, bonded in 2008 just after Napa Valley College’s winery, is one of five vintners that have already reserved tasting spots there. Napa Valley College makes 500 cases a year at its St. Helena campus winery and is considering fund-raising for construction of a tasting room there, according to winery technology instructor Bryan Avila.
“We’re trying to establish a real-life education organization focused on high-end artisanal products,” said Mack Schwing, foundation chairman and president of WISE Academy for wine sales training. He said the college is trying to distinguish its program from those teaching larger-scale winemaking methods at major California college.
This creates real-life business training for students not only in college’s certificate and associate degree winemaking programs — all of legal drinking age and averaging 26 years old — but also for students in other departments, according to Mr. Schwing. For example, students in the advanced graphics class created the new farm products logo, includes a stylized tractor tread.
Creating high-end salable products means getting serious about quality while still having them be student-produced. Wines made at the farm’s Gallo Family Wine Laboratory under the supervision of farm manager and winemaker Chris Wills come from one ton of grapes reserved from the 70 acres of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes on the property as well as zinfandel grapes from a Russian River Valley winery two miles away. The rest of the grapes is sold to a number of high-profile local wineries, including Benziger, whose Shone Farm sauvignon blanc recently won an award.
After the wines go into barrels, a two- to five-person tasting panel chaired by wine critic Dan Berger compares the college wine with other Russian River Valley wines of the same varieties. If any Shone Farm wine isn’t up to snuff, it’s sold on the bulk-wine market.
Yet there’s still a marketing hurdle for the wine in the tasting room, according to Chris O’Connell, The Wineyard general manager.
“It will be a hurdle in the tasting room, because people think, ‘Oh, it’s a student-made wine,” he said.
Since the tasting room partially opened last month amid construction on the adjoining spaces in the building for related ventures, Mr. O’Connell has been pouring Shone Farm Winery as part of three $5 Russian Rivery Valley, Sonoma County and Rhone-style tasting flights of selections from the tasting room member wineries. He said visitors seem to be surprised at the quality of the college’s wine.
Up to this point, the college winery has been selling the college’s 300 to 400 annual cases on the Internet and at stores such as Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol and at Traverso’s Gourmet Foods Wines & Liquors until it closed recently. Gross sales top $86,000 a year for the $20- to $30-a-bottle wines. Another marketing venue will be the Rootstock benefit wine festival at Vintners Square in July, benefiting the Shone Farm Winery and Foundation.
Six months ago, the foundation got the OK from the college board of trustees to start aggressively marketing products made from grapes, cattle, sheep, eggs, olives and other produce of the 365-acre farm, located between Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport and the Russian River, according to Mr. Schwing.
Currently in development are high-end olive oils, beef jerky and spaghetti sauces. However, Shone Farm has discovered that just like the regulatory and quality-vetting processes for high-end wine, these other products have their own hurdles, such as testing and tasting by the California Olive Oil Association for extra-virgin status and U.S. Department of Agriculture approval of facilities making products with more than 2 percent beef and poultry. While the farm’s commercial kitchen is being approved, the farm has contracted with a certified facility on the Central Coast to make the first product.
“It’s part of a long-term process to make Shone Farm a different source of funding for the college than the California Legislature,” he said.
DH Wine Compliance of Santa Rosa helped The Wineyard obtain state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board licenses.
The Wineyard is set to fully open to the public Feb. 10. Starting hours will be Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other ventures at Vintners Square set to open at that time are The Beeryard, a tasting bar for craft and artisan beers, The Club Room with high-tech meeting room set up for virtual tasting events and a cafe that also will make hors d’oeuvres for The Wineyard tastings.
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