Scholarship News

Napa Native

Scholarship Winners: Where Are They Now?

By Greg Risling

If you grew up in an area known for producing some of the finest wine in the world, are you pre-destined to work in that industry?

Being raised in the Napa Valley can definitely be a blessing for burgeoning oenophiles. For Gabriel Altamura, 35, he saw all the hard work that went into making a stellar wine time and again.

“I always was part of the workforce, growing up lower-to-middle income,” Altamura said. “To me, wine making is a testament to hard work. It forces you to be present in your environment.”

Altamura’s first passion was cooking. He was able to live and work in Melbourne as a chef for a year before returning back to the United States where he enrolled at Napa Valley College. While taking classes, he got his introduction into winemaking as a cellar worker at Laird Family Estate.

He then learned the trade and his interest grew while working part-time at Groth Vineyards & Winery. Imagine getting to walk among rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes – what some might say is an embarrassment of riches right at your fingertips.

“I felt a greater connection when I did my first harvest,” Altamura said. “You don’t need to be a super intelligent person to make wine. You just have to put in the hard work.”

Altamura eventually took courses at the University of California, Davis, one of the premier universities in the winemaking world. Taking classes at UC Davis afforded him the ability to be resourceful and answers to what seemed like complex questions were readily attainable.

It was at UC Davis where Altamura received a scholarship from the Orange County Wine Society. Getting the financial help alleviated the stress and allowed him to focus on his studies, he said.

“It was a really special moment for me and I will always be grateful,” Altamura said. “It’s nice to see people who you don’t know, rooting for you.”

In 2022, Altamura received his degree from UC Davis in enology and viticulture. Since then, he’s been busy working at JH Wine Consulting in the Bay Area. Founded by esteemed winemaker Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega fame, the company does a little bit of everything – managing vineyards, sourcing grapes for certain labels and helping build a brand.

Altamura’s days are definitely busy. He oversees five satellite locations, sampling and analyzing the grapes and controlling inventory to ensure JH customers get the best results. He said a year’s worth of experience at JH Wine Consulting feels like it would take three years somewhere else.

Altamura knows the stereotypes that comes with the Napa tag. He is somewhat conflicted because while Napa is so alluring for wine enthusiasts, as a native is can be somewhat constricting.

“It’s like if you grew up in Bordeaux – it’s all you know,” he said. “You need to put out a good Napa cab or what else are you doing here?”

He hopes to one day to run his own operation. He believes that his generation – and the generations who follow – will have to deal with the challenges of climate change and how to best grow grapes under those conditions.

For now, Altamura is focused on producing exemplary wine that is served in restaurants and homes across California and abroad.

“There is no shortage of good wine,” he said. “I think one of the big challenges is how do you get noticed?”

Spotlight on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

 California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo has a wine and viticulture program in their College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. This program is the largest in the nation and combines the study of cultivating wine grapes with the study of wines, winemaking and the wine business.

 The campus has a 14-acre vineyard for students to practice successful strategies needed to understand all aspects of winemaking in the fertile California coastal region. Students also learn about beverage compliance and understanding the many complex rules and regulations of the industry.

 Many of Cal Poly’s students have gone on to work as winery founders and owners, viticulturists, enologists, production assistants and cellar workers, as well as, many other areas of management and marketing associates.

 The OCWS support of the Cal Poly Program is greatly appreciated and in 2023 the OCWS contributed $5100 to their general scholarship fund in the wine and viticulture program.

 Each month we will be highlighting one of the colleges or universities supported by the OCWS scholarship fund.

Just a friendly reminder there is always time to make a donation to the OCWS Scholarship Fund for 2024. There are two ways to donate:

1.     Mail a check – Complete your check using the same instructions as above, and mail it to the OCWS office at OCWS  P.O. Box 11059  Costa Mesa, CA 92627  Attn: Scholarship Fund. A donation letter will be sent to you.

2.     Donate Online – Log on to your account at and go to the scholarship donation page: You can make your donation online and print a receipt for tax purposes at the same time.

 –Damian J. Christian, OCWS Scholarship Chair

Scholarship donation reminder

Just a friendly reminder that it is not too late to make a donation to the OCWS Scholarship Fund in 2023.  There are several ways to donate:

  1. Bring a check to a holiday event – Make your check out to OCWS (please write Scholarship Donation on the memo line and add the name of a specific school, if you want it to go to only one of the schools supported). I will be in attendance at the holiday events and will be happy to accept your donation check. A donation letter will be sent to you.
  2. Mail a check – Complete your check using the same instructions as above and mail it to the OCWS office at OCWS, P.O. Box 11059 Costa Mesa, CA 92627  Attn: Scholarship Fund  A donation letter will be sent to you.
  3. Donate Online – Logon to your account at and go to the scholarship donation page: You can make your donation online and print a receipt for tax purposes at the same time.

Damian Christian, OCWS Scholarship Chair

Future Investment: Where Are They Now?

Scholarship Success – Story by Greg Risling

In a state overflowing with an abundance of wine, who doesn’t dream of dipping their toes in the world of winemaking?

For Robert Huff, that aspiration became reality thanks, in some small measure, to a $1,200 scholarship from the Orange County Wine Society.

Huff, 39, was studying at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, trying to cover his tuition and other expenses while splitting his time between school and working part time at a restaurant. Fortunately, he was awarded an OCWS scholarship that helped him graduate in 2017 with a degree in wine and viticulture.

“I was willing to learn whatever I could,” Huff says. “At Cal Poly SLO, I built a good base of wine research and how to solve problems, which has been helpful in my career. I learned in the winemaking industry there is no one size that fits all.”

Every year, OCWS awards scholarships at eight California colleges to aspiring students studying enology, viticulture, wine marketing or culinary arts.

The Santa Rosa native went on to work at esteemed Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne, where he landed one of two prized internship positions out of a pool of 17 applicants. There, he learned the tools of the trade, eventually becoming cellar master, where he dabbled with high-end fruit and had the freedom to experiment.

For the past two years, Huff has been with Marine Layer Wines, a Sonoma winery that focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He now serves as assistant winemaker, running a 350-ton production facility.

Huff also has been afforded a side project: Joseph-Jibril Wines. Using both Huff and partner’s Jaam Moynihan’s middle names, they have been blessed to make their own wine. Their first vintage was a 2021 carbonic Pinot Noir and a 2021 Rose of Pinot Noir.

Jaam Moynihan (left) and Robert Huff take a break from production of their Joseph-Jibril Wines.

This year they plan to add an organic Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc to their portfolio.

Huff realizes he is fortunate to do what he loves the most and has some parting advice for those who want to be part of a flourishing industry and may need to rely on scholarships like the ones OCWS provides.

“Do your research and find the curriculum that has the most to offer,” he says. “Exploring all your options is helpful and putting in that little bit of extra work – especially finding available scholarships – will help you in the long run.”

To date, OCWS has awarded more than $740,000 through its scholarship program. In 2022, OCWS gave nearly $30,000 to eight institutions.

OCWS Scholarship Tips

Although funds for the Scholarship Account come from several sources all year long, the funds I know you want to hear about are what “you” our members generated at The Courtyard this year! It was due to all our members who volunteered at the Fair that took the time to explain to the public about our colleges and universities while pouring with a smile that made this a very special year.

The OCWS was fortunate this year because we hung extra signage as reminders to all who entered The Courtyard, and we were able to place “tip” jars visible on the counters for the first very time.

Another huge reason was because of Liz and Lloyd Corbett and Betty Jo and Jay Newell who staffed and served at the new Featured Winery bar over countless hours, and managed all the participating wineries with those funds going toward the Scholarship Account. To them and to each of the wineries that supported this program, THANK YOU for your wine appreciation and education, and your excellent contributions!

Over $19,000 was donated from our “tip” jars on the counters alone, and over $15,000 was generated from the Featured Winery  Program.The total scholarship funds generated from The Courtyard at the 2022 OC Fair exceeded $34,500.

Thank you to The Courtyard Committee, to the Board of Directors and to Charles English for the extra help. The 2023 scholarship distribution proposal will be submitted to the Board for approval early next year.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO DONATE!!  Go to our Scholarship page and you can choose any amount to donate to your choice of college or university, and you can print a receipt for your records. 35,000 thanks!

 – Leslie Hodowanec, 2022 Scholarship Committee Chair

Congratulations 2022 Graduates

Congratulations everyone!  Generated during our events, activities and our members volunteering during 2021, the 2022 OCWS Scholarship Fund disbursed $29,202 to eight California colleges and universities. Since 1996, $741,713 has been contributed toward wine education and appreciation.

Thank you for your special donations, and our gratitude to the BOD and committees for being very supportive by promoting college logos at our events everywhere you look. More recently, college students staffed our Wine Auction. The recent An American Picnic Wine Wall generated funds as well. The Featured Winery Program returns to the OC Fair Courtyard, and we know our servers will proudly pour for scholarships, which is the best way you can volunteer.

The Scholarship Committee is expanding with member Colette Hadley who will soon be socially linking you to “our” colleges in connection with their research and upcoming events. This is scholarship season, and we are waiting to hear who our 2022 student recipients will be.

The OCWS celebrates the achievements of the Class of 2022 with cheers for a successful future!

– Leslie Hodowanec, 2022 Scholarship Chair

Creative Scholarships

After enjoying serving on the Scholarship Committee for the past two years, I would like to thank the Board for allowing me to continue into 2022, and I welcome those ideas from our generous members who are becoming creative with expanding the Scholarship Committee.

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) from 2020 has been extended to 2021 and allows for an additional “above the line” tax deduction for 501(c)(3) charitable gifts made in cash up to $300 for those filing single/separately and up to $600 for those filing jointly.

To the member who was at the Fall BBQ while in the food serving line who told me she worked on another scholarship committee, please get ahold of me. I would like to talk to you. I was wearing gloves and couldn’t write down any information. We have another member who has also volunteered to get involved on the scholarship committee. I can be reached at

$12.50 of each membership goes into the scholarship fund, however dual memberships remain at only $12.50. For those members with dual memberships, you may consider donating your dual $12.50 to the OCWS scholarship fund.

Long-time OCWS members have donated wine. We picked up a collector series of Marilyn Merlot wines, and Roadrunner Ridge Winery donated 150+ cases of wine for our Auction, where the funds raised go specifically toward the scholarship account. We are grateful to those who purchased the lots.

Mira Laguna Winery made a contribution from the Willy and Eileen Ma Foundation to the OCWS scholarship foundations, thank you!

Endeared member, Marjorie Trout, who is an established artist and exhibitor also helped raise scholarship funds at our Auction.

Two months until 2022 and we’re wrapping up the OCWS scholarship year. You can see how many ways there are to creatively contribute!  Go to program, choose your own personal scholarship donation amount and print a receipt for your records (please contact your tax professional for advice).

Enjoy and Happy Holidays everyone!

– Leslie Hodowanec,
Scholarship Chair

A Taste of Appreciation

Our members can further support “our” colleges and universities by tasting the bounty of their wines and culinary talents too!  Each of the college personalities are as individual as the varietals they produce. Here is a “taste” of what you can find on the OCWS scholarship menu: The recently constructed Justin and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture is producing student and commercial wines sponsored by established industry professionals and incorporates a student-run organization “Vines to Wines.” Their new Wine Club offers eight varietals, a case value pack, gifts and will ship. When you order, they will include a newsletter detailing the production, alumni stories and food pairing suggestions with each varietal. The LEED Platinum Teaching & Research Winery at UC Davis has set goals in Viticulture & Enology (V&E), production, design and conservation research to build the most advanced winery and the most sustainable winery in the world. Review the paper on “Wildfire Impact on CA Grapes and Wine” that examines smoke exposure and smoke tainting from recent CA wildfires. Another fine way to enjoy tastings are with Advanced Culinary Arts Degrees in Baking and Pastry. OCC is our next door neighbor, so when they reopen make a reservation at The Captain’s Table on Thursdays for lunch, or specialty dinners for $14. The students apply their skills including preparation, waiting on guests, dining room service and 4-course gourmet banquet-style plates in American and Old World styles of culinary arts. The Viticulture and Winery Tech Foundation at Napa Valley College was the first commercial community college campus winery, and they produce and will ship five varietals. Take a taste of their website research papers on Categories of Wine, Best Wine Regions, Tips for Choosing Wines, Rarely Known Facts, and Histories of European, and Chinese and Western Asian wines. The Santa Maria Campus celebrated their 5th year as a commercial winery. The OCWS just received eight student thank you letters and they are truly “grapeful.”  Allan Hancock Winery has wine tasting on campus, will ship several varietals, and offers a Sparkling Blanc de Noir. You can join the AHC Wine Club and they ship your selection options. Take their fun survey to help you decide “What Wine Matches Your Personality?”  (Mine was Pinot Noir.) Fresno State is celebrating their 20th year of V&E in wine production and marketing. Visit the Gibson Farm Market to purchase “all things grown on campus,” including produce, nuts, wines and other products produced by students at The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology. They offer gift boxes that can be custom arranged from farm to you, and their FSU Wine Club will ship selected varietals and combinations that will “bring something new in every bottle.” Sonoma State also accepts V&E transfer students from Allan Hancock College and now from Napa Valley College. The students take V&E research and production to the next level in the field of Business and Marketing, both locally and globally. You can view a beautiful virtual campus tour. SSU recipients will always remember the Chris Cunningham endowment which is now helping to take the OCWS to the next level of appreciation worldwide.

This past year we have introduced our members to scholarship opportunities and maybe holiday ideas. Take a taste of the inspiring recipient thank you letters on our OCWS website. We hope this menu may help you select which one college, or all, to help support dedicated students in our final month of 2020 fundraising.

You can do it all at It’s as easy as a few clicks, and you can print a receipt for tax purposes. The CARES Act provides tax incentives for this year only. Thank you to our generous members for the donations received already. 

While we look forward to 2021, Wine Up, fill the scholarship glass and appreciate these unique “tastes” of OCWS colleges and universities. When you order, tell them thanks from all of us at the OCWS. Happy Holidays everyone!

     – Leslie Hodowanec, Director & Scholarship Chair

2020-2021 OCWS Scholarship Drive—Time to Wine-Up

Scholarships are important to the core of the OCWS, especially to the dedicated students we support. Due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of scholarship fundraising sources, the scholarship account has only 10% of what we funded last year at this time. We have lost the top three and more of five sources that account for Undesignated (shared) and Designated (specific) Scholarship funds. We need the help of our generous OCWS members to Wine-Up Scholarships this fall. 

Every new OCWS membership and renewal provides $12.50 into our Scholarship Fund. This past year, the BOD twice suspended expiring memberships, for a total of 8 months of no incoming undesignated funds.

Judges’ donations from our Commercial Wine Competition are combined and rotated in an annual order to one of our seven colleges and universities. There was no designated 2020 Judges’ donation. The Courtyard at the OC Fair generates funds in two areas. Donations awarded from the onsite Featured Winery Program and winemakers serving at the Express Bar are divided between colleges that officially enter our competition. There was no 2020 designation.

The largest incoming annual source of almost half of the total OCWS scholarship funds every year are the tips/gratuity donations our fabulous volunteers generate over The Courtyard counter during the OC Fair. There are no undesignated sources this year from The Courtyard either.

Ways to Wine-Up. For this 2020 tax year, the CARES Act allows tax benefits in the form of a universal deduction up to $300 toward 501(c)(3) organizations for those that do not itemize their deductions. As an alternative, you can make contributions directly from your IRA or 401(K) and avoid additional income on your individual return. Always check with your tax professional as how it applies to you.

On our OCWS website, click on Scholarship Program and Donations. You may designate your contribution toward a specific college. An undesignated option is to divide your contribution to be equally distributed between seven colleges. After you make your donation, you will be able to print your receipt for your tax records. The Cunningham Endowment is specifically designated to Sonoma State University and you must contribute separately to that account. With unprecedented disappointments this year, let’s show that the OCWS can Wine-Up as a scholarship organization with benefits toward grateful recipients for 2021. 

– Leslie Hodowanec, Director & Scholarship Chair

News from OCWS Scholarship Universities and Colleges

We were delighted to hear about the inspiration and many accomplishments from the scholarship colleges and universities the OCWS supports. Students are studying in virtual classes and labs. Following is a bit of news so worthy of sharing.

Allan Hancock College Winery, Santa Maria Campus, is celebrating their fifth anniversary as a commercially bonded winery. Students carry over to a four-year university by participating in harvesting, production, bottling, marketing, and sales of award-winning wines. They produce their own bottles, and their labels are designed by the Campus Graphics Dept. AHC Winery has an on-campus wine club that provides Friday afternoon tastings to those over 21, and their wines are available for purchase. Allan Hancock 2018 and 2019 OCWS medal winners are Chardonnay, Malbec, Torrontes, Albarino and Rose of Pinot Noir.

Many students at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Justin and J. Lohr Center for Wine and Viticulture are employed by local wineries while they study. A new learning lab building was recently completed by donated funds and equipment where students conduct experiments and analysis of specific varietals.

Cal State Fresno Jordan College of Agricultural Science and Technology vineyards are still growing grapes and are continuing to cultivate and care for all the agricultural crops on a daily basis. While practicing safe distancing guidelines, a local winemaker and students have been volunteering to bottle Fresno State wines. Fresno State 2018 and 2019 OCWS medal winners are Zinfandel, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Proprietary White and Rose of Grenache.

Several students from the Sonoma and Napa Valley areas are returning from losing their homes and family businesses, wine cellars, and wineries in recent wildfires. With the 2020 OC Fair cancelled, the OCWS will miss out on donations garnered during the Fair and allocated to the OCWS scholarship fund.

Many thanks to our members for continuing to support our eight scholarship colleges and universities.

The OCWS congratulates the graduating Class of 2020 Enology and Viticulture students. We wish you the best in your future wine-related endeavors. Keep in touch with us.

– Leslie Hodowanec, Scholarship Chair