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.
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.