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Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund at UC Davis fosters opportunity

Theopolis Vineyards founder Theodora Lee has donated $70,000 to create a fund to help viticulture and enology students at the University of California at Davis pursue their degree.

Lee, honored recently as the first African American woman to own and operate a winery in Northern California, took continuing educations classes offered by the university’s Viticulture and Enology Department. The award preferences students who are underrepresented or who face barriers entering the wine industry.

“If more diverse persons are trained as vineyard managers, winemakers or vintners, then the wine industry would be more diverse,” Lee said.

Awards and scholarships allow students to focus on their studies and reduce college debt, which could be the difference between a student applying for career-enhancing internships or not.

The first gift from the Theopolis Vineyards Diversity Fund, announced in 2022, was awarded to Iona Joseph, a senior from south San Jose.

“I had the pleasure of meeting the first recipient before she went on to graduate school,” Lee said with broad smile.

“My father left home at 15 because he did not want the life of a sharecropper. He had two and three jobs at a time, got his GED, went to college and then got a doctorate in education. He taught me that you lift as you climb. That’s the way I believe life should be, which is why I established the scholarship—the only fund focused on the growing of the grapes and the making of the wine.”

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