Wine Country

$6 Million Gift to Linfield College Aims to Professionalize Oregon's Wine Industry

The owners of Domaine Serene have had a good year—and they're funneling that fortune back into the Willamette Valley.

By Ramona DeNies March 8, 2018

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In March 2018, the owners of Dundee Hills pinot noir powerhouse Domaine Serene gifted the Willamette Valley's Linfield College with $6 million gift to establish what might be the world's first interdisciplinary wine studies degree.

Grace and Ken Evenstad have been players in the Oregon wine scene since 1989, when the couple established the 42-acre Domaine Serene estate in the Dundee Hills. But in the last year, the Evenstads have really doubled down on their Willamette Valley investment.

We’re pegging the momentum to April 2017, when the Evenstads sold the original family business—Minnesota-based pharmaceutical company Upsher-Smith Labs—for a reported $1 billion.

Since then, the Evenstads have opened a 30,000-square-foot “clubhouse” on their estate, where wine lovers have 12 distinct tasting rooms in which to toast the winery's three new Decanter World Wine Awards. Rumor has it that the family is quietly expanding its vineyard and property holdings in the Dayton/Dundee area. Now, add a $6 million gift to the list: a just-announced donation to Linfield College’s Center for Wine Education.

“This is the largest gift that an institution has ever received for wine education in Oregon,” says Linfield College President Thomas Hellie. It's also one of the largest single donations in the history of the McMinnville institution.

The March 8 press announcement was made at downtown Portland’s Sentinel Hotel, in a sleek street-facing space that (as of April) will be known as the Domaine Serene Wine Lounge. The gift, Hellie explained, will endow both the Grace and Ken Evenstad Center for Wine Education and the Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies.

According to wine climatologist Dr. Gregory Jones—the first Evenstad Chair—the gift will also allow Linfield to develop a new bachelor’s degree program. Unlike viticulture science programs elsewhere in the nation (such as those at Oregon State, Washington State, UC-Davis, and Cornell), Linfield's wine studies major will focus on training future generations of wine professionals in “soft skills” like leadership, hospitality, sensory evaluation techniques, and literacy in wine history, geography, and environmental science.

The degree will be the first interdisciplinary degree in wine education in the United States, and perhaps the world,” says Jones.

Part of that training—oriented to careers outside of wine production, like public relations, wine club management, and event planning—will take place at the future Evenstad Wine Laboratory, where students will learn basics in soil science and fruit processing. But the focus of this pioneering program, Jones stresses, will be in the broader liberal arts, with students required to pursue double majors (Dr. Jones gave creative writing as an example) and studies abroad.

At the press event, Domaine Serene cofounder Grace Evenstad asserted that the aim of the gift was to create a program that involves all aspects of the wine business. “We hope," she added, "that it will bring a professionalism that is much needed in our industry.”  

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