$6 million donation by Domaine Serene owners to boost Linfield wine studies

McMINNVILLE, Ore. — Grace and Ken Evenstad of Oregon’s iconic Domaine Serene Winery helped Linfield College take a major step with its blossoming wine education program Thursday when they announced a $6 million donation to the Willamette Valley school.

It’s being hailed as the largest gift of its kind of the history of the Oregon wine industry, creating the Grace and Ken Evenstad Center for Wine Education, an endowed faculty position and construction of the Evenstad Wine Laboratory.

“Ken and I were drawn to the fact that this new and unique program will focus on all aspects of running a successful and sustainable wine business,” Grace Evenstad said in a news release. “In our opinion, the real benefit is that it focuses on building a high level of quality throughout the entire business of wine — in winemaking, management, accounting, sales, marketing, etc. This gift will enable thousands of future students to follow their passions in the wine business. It will prepare them for success and will enable the American wine industry to benefit for generations, even centuries, to come.”

Linfield College is home to the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration and offers the first interdisciplinary liberal arts bachelor’s degree in wine studies in the United States.

“This tremendous gift is not only a boon to Linfield College, it’s a major investment in the future of wine education in our state,” Linfield College President Thomas L. Hellie said. “We are deeply grateful to Grace and Ken for this important gift — and we’re proud of their faith in Linfield’s wine education program.”

Evenstad gift follows hire of Greg Jones

Greg Jones, one of the wine world’s top researchers, becomes the inaugural Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies at Linfield College. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Last summer, Linfield made an international statement by recruiting Greg Jones from Southern Oregon University to become its director of wine education. In 2016, Wine Business Monthly named Jones among its Top 50 Wine Industry Leaders for his work as one of the wine world’s leading climate researchers.

Jones succeeded Ellen Brittan as director of the Center for Wine Education, and he will be the first to hold the Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies title.

“It is such an honor for Linfield College and myself to be recognized and supported by the Evenstads,” Jones said. “Through their generosity and vision, Linfield College will be able to provide a unique, liberal arts education in wine studies that will help develop future leaders of the Oregon wine industry. In addition, the Grace and Ken Evenstad Center for Wine Education will deliver numerous activities that will engage and educate the wine industry and community, enriching the Oregon wine experience for everyone.”

Rather than offering a curriculum for winemakers and vineyard manager akin to several regional colleges, Linfield’s planned Wine Studies degree will provide educational opportunities unique in the Pacific Northwest that focus on commerce, communication, history, sales and sensory evaluation.

“From the first day that we set foot in the Dundee Hills, we have been on a never-ending quest to grow and produce the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world,” Ken Evenstad said. “By making this donation to Linfield College, we are investing in the future thought-leaders of the global wine industry. With this partnership, it is our hope that the newly endowed wine studies program acts as a magnet to attract the brightest minds from around the world to further propel our industry to even greater heights on the world’s stage.”

This winter, their formal relationship with the McMinnville school began when a study-abroad trip for Linfield students included a visit to the Evenstad project in Burgundy at Château de la Crée.

At this point, Linfield offers a wine studies minor that can be paired with other academic programs. It also offers wine management and wine marketing certificates online, holds a wine lecture series, provides a summer Wine Industry Immersion Program. The school, chartered in 1858 and one of 16 affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, also is home to the Oregon Wine History Archive, a project established by archivist Rachael Woody.

30th anniversary of Domaine Serene on horizon

The Evenstads opened The Clubhouse at Domaine Serene in 2017. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Ken and Grace Evenstad established Domaine Serene in 1989, and the talented winemakers who have passed through the doors of their showpiece estate atop the Dundee Hills include Ken Wright, Tony Rynders, Rob Folin, Drew Voit and Erik Kramer. Duckhorn alum Michael Fay took over at both Domaine Serene and Château de la Crée in advance of the 2017 harvest.

The Domaine Serene 2010 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir earned acclaim as the No. 3 wine in the world on Wine Spectator magazine’s top 100 list of 2013. Three year later, the 2014 vintage of Evenstad Reserve ranked one slot higher — No. 2 — on the Spectator list.

As property owners in Oregon, the Evenstatds control 950 acres in Yamhill County, with vines accounting for 287 acres. Their holdings in Côte de Beaune, acquired in 2015, account for 25 acres with more than 40 percent classified as Premier Cru vineyards.

Last year, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse helped cut the ribbon on The Clubhouse at Domaine Serene, a 34,000-square-foot hospitality center reminiscent of properties along Napa’s Silverado Trail. Executive chef Jason Kupper, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, trained under both Thomas Keller and Charlie Palmer.

The Evenstads and their family have been leaders in the pharmaceutical industry for generations. Last year, Upsher-Smith Laboratories, founded in Minnesota, sold a major portion of its company for a reported $1 billion to Sawai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., in Osaka, Japan.

Both Ken and Grace, a registered nurse, are proud graduates of the University of Minnesota. They are trustees of the Naples (Fla.) Winter Wine Festival, one of the nation’s top wine auctions and a fundraiser for the Naples Children & Education Foundation.