Western Colorado Community College’s Viticulture and Enology Program at Colorado Mesa University will soon have its own viticulture and enology institute thanks to a $150,000 donation from a Napa Valley winemaking legend.

The Winiarski Family Foundation, founded by Napa winemaker Warren Winiarski with his wife, Barbara, is donating the money to go toward a scholarship, as well as programs and research projects. Winiarski is famous for winning the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind taste test that pitted American wines against French wines.

Winiarski has a connection to Colorado wine-making, as he worked for Gerald Ivancie starting in 1968. His Denver-based Ivancie Cellars was the first commercial winery in the state making wine using grapes. The institute will be named the Warren Winiarski, Gerald Ivancie Institute of Viticulture and Enology in honor of both men.

“He (Ivancie) had the idea so strongly in him and he knew it was possible in the Grand Junction area, at least, where peaches could grow he thought grapes could grow as well, and thrive,” Winiarski told The Daily Sentinel. “I like people with vision and I like people who back up that vision with enthusiasm and give it everything they’ve got. He certainly did that.”

Winiarski left Colorado to establish his own vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, in Napa Valley. In the years since, he has kept an interest in the Colorado wine industry and has participated in the Governor’s Cup. He said Colorado wineries face challenges, but they are producing good wine.

“Since I’ve been on the Governor’s Cup tastings, I think you have outstanding and unique potential to have beautiful wines that are Colorado wines,” Winiarski said. “I just hope it brings the industry together so those beautiful things more readily and more pleasantly come together.”

WCCC Viticulture and Enology Program Director Jenne Baldwin-Eaton said the grant will help both students and industry professionals. It will also help raise additional money for the program by pledging $50,000 of the total as a matching grant.

“This viticulture and enology program is the first one in the state of Colorado,” Baldwin-Eaton said. “We’re only four years old and not only does the funding help the program, but more than that, it’s getting the recognition that we have a program here in Colorado out to the U.S. It brings more light to the program that we have here.”

Both Winiarski and Baldwin-Eaton said they hoped the grant would help bring Colorado’s grape growers and wineries together to help the industry tackle the unique challenges it faces. Growing grapes at a high altitude can be difficult. Winiarski compared it to the Argentinian industry, which grows grapes in high altitudes as well. He said Colorado will have an added challenge as it is made up of many smaller wineries. Baldwin-Eaton said part of the plan is to use the research this gift will fund to help wineries maintain quality and consistency across the state.

“I’m really hopeful that this institute will bring collaboration between all of our grape growers and winemakers,” Baldwin-Eaton said. “We’re very spread out, which makes it difficult. So I’m hoping through extension work we can offer different workshops and seminars and programs throughout the year to bring everyone together and to get them talking and focusing on raising quality and consistency.”

The affiliation of Winiarski with CMU will help the students and raise the profile of the state’s industry overall, Baldwin-Eaton said. CMU President Tim Foster noted Winiarski’s relationship with education and said that will help the university into the future.

“Winiarski is among the most celebrated personalities in the wine industry,” Foster said in a statement. “Before his wine became his vocation, he pursued an academic career and was a Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago. So, he understands the world of wine and the world of education and how they can work jointly to advance Colorado’s wine businesses. Mr. Winiarski’s affiliation with our university will benefit our students for generations to come.”

CMU was an obvious choice for this grant Winiarski said, as it was the first in the state with a viticulture and enology program.

He praised Baldwin-Eaton, who has been in the industry for more than two decades, for her enthusiasm and devotion to the program.

“One has to develop the methodologies and the approaches that are suitable for each of the wine growing areas in order to produce something of beauty and something that will be pleasurable in a wide range of circumstances, especially at the table,” Winiarski said. “I’m hoping this will help in that regard because you need that kind of study and that kind of research that CMU is capable of.”

There are currently around 150 wineries in Colorado with many located in the Grand Valley.

Baldwin-Eaton said the Winiarski grant will help the industry develop and grow.

“We are a very young industry and certainly all wine industries need to maintain quality and consistency for the success of the overall industry,” Baldwin-Eaton said. “So this will be a tool that we can use to help increase that, maintain that, and bring new approaches to our industry.”