It’s the season of giving, and the world’s most prestigious viticultural school has just received a most precious gift for its programs and its students.
The University of California at Davis has announced a gift of more than $12.5 million from the estate of Napa Valley native Louise Rossi to the campus’s winemaking and grape growing program. The announcement was made in the Napa Valley at a ranch that the Rossi family operated for nearly a century.
The landmark gift, one of the largest donations ever made to U.C. Davis, represents the Rossi family’s proceeds from the sale of their 52-acre ranch earlier this year. The money will be used to establish a perpetual source of funding for high-priority research projects focused on improving sustainable production practices and enhancing the flavor of grapes and wine.
To accomplish those goals, in the near term, the gift will finance the purchase of equipment in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. The first phase of the Mondavi Institute is scheduled for completion next June. The Department of Viticulture and Enology also plans to establish one or more endowed chairs, named in honor of Louise Rossi and her brother Ray Rossi, to support faculty positions focused on winemaking and grape growing.
“Louise Rossi and her family so typified the sprit of California agriculture,” said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. “We at U.C. Davis are quite humbled to be the recipients of their quiet generosity and the beneficiaries of their many decades of hard work.”
Louise Rossi, who oversaw the Rossi family vineyard operations and its accounts until her death in February at age 99, was employed for many years as a bookkeeper for the B.L. Taylor Electric Company in St. Helena.
She and her brother Ray, a U.C. Davis alumnus who died in 1997 at age 91, have been longtime supporters of U.C. Davis through the Rossi Prize. They established the prize in 1979 to benefit viticulture and enology students from the Napa Valley, and to honor the memories of their parents, Fred and Rachel Rossi, and their brother, Arthur Rossi.
“Throughout her long life, Louise remained passionately committed to the art and business of winemaking and grape growing, and was fiercely proud of her family ranch’s role in the history of the Napa Valley,” said Elizabeth Leeds, one of Louise Rossi’s longtime friends and co-executor for her estate.
“Louise’s gift, which has been planned for many years, is intended to help build upon U.C. Davis’ world-class winemaking and grape growing programs,” Leeds said, “while honoring nearly a century of grape growing and winemaking by her family at the Rossi Ranch.”
Added Andrew Waterhouse, chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology: “Through this incredibly generous gift, Louise Rossi is touching the lives of generations of Californians for years to come. We look forward to carrying out her vision of advancing UC. Davis’ grape growing and winemaking program to a new level of excellence.
“We are very pleased that Louise and Ray perceived such a substantial benefit from our efforts to support the industry over the years,” Waterhouse added. “This gift, coming as U.C. Davis begins to celebrate its centennial anniversary, heralds an even more promising future.”
To honor the Rossi’s gift, the terrace overlooking the central courtyard of the campus’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science will be named in honor of Ray and Louise Rossi. The terrace will have a commanding view of the nearby teaching vineyard and the Vaca Mountains, to the west. Three academic buildings, which comprise the first phase of the institute complex, are slated for completion in June. Construction of a new winery, as well as a food science laboratory and brewery, will follow.
THE ROSSI FAMILY
The Rossi family’s link to U.C. Davis was first established by Ray Rossi, who graduated in 1930 with a two-year degree certificate in agriculture.
Ray and Louise’s parents, Ferdinando (Fred) Rossi and Rachel Sculatti, immigrated in the late 1800s from Switzerland and Italy, respectively. Fred’s brother, Antone Rossi, had already moved to California in 1870. Nine years later, in 1879, Antone Rossi purchased property on the east side of the Napa Valley, began growing grapes and built a wine cellar.
Fred and Rachel married in 1896 and had three children: Arthur, born in 1901; Remo (Ray) in 1906; and Louise in 1907. Fred leased and then purchased property near St. Helena and became a successful vineyardist. He died in 1922 of a heart attack.
Upon his father’s death, Art Rossi took charge of the family ranch and became a successful grape grower and winemaker in his own right. When he died in 1950 at age 49, one of the pallbearers was longtime friend and fellow winemaker Robert Mondavi.
Following Art’s death, the winery on the Rossi Ranch was closed, and Rachel and Louise Rossi focused on raising grapes and selling them to Napa Valley wineries.
Ray Rossi was 16 years old when his father died. In 1927, he began his studies at U.C. Davis, which at that time was called the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture. Graduating in 1930, Ray embarked on a successful career as a fruit buyer, working in grower relations. He primarily lived and worked in California’s Central Valley.
In 1951, Rachel gave the ranch to Ray and Louise. After Rachel died in 1958, Louise and Ray ran the ranch together until he died in 1997.
THE ROSSI RANCH
Upon Ray’s death, ownership of the Rossi Ranch passed solely into Louise’s hands. The 52-acre ranch, with its white water tower surrounded by dry-farmed vineyards, has long been a Napa Valley landmark. Over the years, grapes grown on the ranch have produced some of Napa’s premier wines.
Before her death, Louise Rossi had made plans for the family ranch to be sold to Frog’s Leap Winery. John Williams, owner and winemaker of Frog’s Leap, nearby in Rutherford… and a U.C. Davis alumnus… as a longtime friend. Frog’s Leap, established in 1981, uses only organically grown grapes and traditional winemaking techniques.
“Wines have been made from this piece of earth for more than a hundred years, and my family and I were very pleased that Louise saw fit to allow Frog’s Leap to acquire it,” Williams said. “We are deeply honored and excited to be able to maintain and evolve this iconic farm.”