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Sustainable Winegrowing with Vineyard Team

Sustainable Winegrowing with the Vineyard Team brings you the latest in science and research for the wine industry. This on-the-go, sustainable farming educational resource provides in-depth technical information on topics like integrated pest management, fruit quality, water conservation, and nutrient management from experts like Dr. Mark Fuchs of Cornell University, Dr. Michelle Moyer of Washington State University, Cooperative Extension Specialists, veteran growers, and more. Our podcasts will help you make smarter, sustainable vineyard management decisions to increase efficiency, conserve resources, and maximize fruit quality.

Nov 17, 2022

Vineyard Team’s Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship provides multi-year, higher education investments in the children of vineyard and winery workers on California’s Central Coast based on academic excellence, financial need, and community involvement. The majority of awardees are first-generation college students. This funding supports students and their families in achieving their dreams of successful graduation from a trade, or two- or four-year school to pursue a professional career.

Vineyard Team’s Executive Director, Beth Vukmanic, and milti-year scholarship recipient and Assistant Grower Relations Representative at Justin Winery, Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza talk about how the scholarship impacted her education and career trajectory through not only financial aide but industry connections. Evelyn gives her advice on how to succeed in college to new students and Beth shares how to apply for funding.

First-generation students have more barriers when it comes to attaining higher education – they cannot ask their parents how to navigate the system, budgets are often tight, and they can feel guilty for leaving their families. As a community, we can band together to better the future of the next generation. Multi-year recipient Alberto Gonzales says, "I am proud of breaking the cycle and being the change in my family as the first generation to go to college."

You can give the gift of higher education to students like Evelyn and Alberto this GivingTuesday. Our goal is to raise $75,000 by November 29, 2022. You’ll be doing more than just donating — your kindness will make it possible for working families to send their children to two-year colleges, four-year universities, and trade schools.


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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

And today our guests are Beth Vukmanic, she's executive director of vineyard team and Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza. She is assistant grower relations representative with Justin Winery. Today we're going to talk about the Juan Nevarez Memorial Scholarship. Beth, would you tell us a little bit about how that came about? What it is what it does, and that kind of thing with the background is?


Beth Vukmanic  0:22 

I would love to, but one of ours Memorial Scholarship is to benefit the children of vineyard and winery workers. For anybody who has been a fan of this podcast. You know, we talk about sustainable winegrowing. And a lot of the times that focuses on the planet part of it. So we're talking about soils and pests and irrigation, but people are our most valuable resource. And this scholarship program is a way for us to give back to the people who helped us make a wonderful industry.


Craig Macmillan  0:50 

Who was Juan Nevarez?


Beth Vukmanic  0:52 

Juan Nevarez was a winegrower, who started out in the Paso Robles area, he moved here to the United States as a teenager, I believe he was just 16 years old. He didn't speak any English. And he just learned everything from the ground up. He was a very, I guess you'd probably call it a gritty soul, he would always put in the time and effort to try to teach himself. So if somebody was putting in irrigation lines, he would go over and ask them questions. Or if somebody was planting vines, he would go in and ask questions about why they made that choice. And he over time really developed a successful management company called Nevarez Farm Labor, he helped establish a lot of notable vineyards, including Justin in the Paso Robles area of California. And then he actually developed his own vineyard property, too. And he unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. And something that was really special about Juan is that he held that he was a self made man, he dreamed of higher education for his own children, his daughter, Mia said that their dad had just one require from them that they had to go to college. And his thought with that was that he felt like he had to work really hard to prove who he was and what he knew. And that an education would help his children get that foot in the door, so that they could more easily build a better lives for themselves. And so that's why we named the scholarship after him to honor that memory of somebody who really supported higher education and valued it, and wanted it for the next generation.


Craig Macmillan  2:24 

I never met him, I never connected with him. But from what I've learned, over the years, talking to people, one of the things that made this such an obvious thing to do for the community to start this scholarship was he was connected to like everybody, like he knew everybody. Everybody knew him. Curious more about that this idea of community, because I've talked to so many individuals who had some kind of connection to him, was that part of how this all came about, as folks wanted to, you know, encourage this idea. But also, they all felt like maybe they had some kind of connection there, they had some kind of responsibility. Scholarship is not a simple thing. Like you have to get kind of a critical mass of people to do it.


Beth Vukmanic  3:00 

That's definitely true. Yeah. So when we first started the scholarship program, back in 2015, we were hosting our Earth Day Food and Wine Festival. And that was a way that we would take, you know, some of the proceeds raised by that to give back. And I think those first couple of years, that's the total amount that we were giving was, you know, maybe $5,000, to a few different students. Over time, like you said, because it is a community driven effort, as more people learned about the program, and especially a lot of our vineyard management companies that work with us, they will outreach the scholarship program to their team so that their students can apply for it. So they're really seeing this direct impact of helping their own employees, children attend school and earn that higher education. So I think that's really how the community build started. And it's just grown from there. This year, we gave out $62,000 to 14 different students. And it's just phenomenal. Like how much growth it's seen over the last so many years since 2015.


Craig Macmillan  3:58 

That's fantastic. That's really, really wonderful. If I'm gonna apply, do they have to be a high school senior? Do they apply once they get one year of funding? Can they apply multiple times? How does how does the funding work?


Beth Vukmanic  4:10 

The way that the funding works is they don't necessarily have to be a high school senior, although a lot of our applicants are that could be somebody who is already attending school, they can still be eligible to apply for the scholarship program as well. So far, the way that the scholarship has worked is that students would apply each year to get a scholarship. However, we just had an incredible investment from Must!  Charities that's going to help us expand this program to a whole new level. They've raised $1.3 million dollars...


Craig Macmillan  4:40 



Beth Vukmanic  4:42 

Which is a huge and so a big change that we're going to make that's going to be incredible is to provide multi year scholarships. Instead of a student needing to come back and apply every single year as they're going to into your school or trade school or possibly a four year school, we would be able to give them funding for that period. bit of time, if they beat the benchmarks of a minimum GPA, and then also checking in with our organization. And that's something that we found was sort of kind of happening already with recipients like Evelyn. But now we have to do that more intentionally.


Craig Macmillan  5:14 

And let's ask everyone. So Evelyn, you are a multi year recipient, is that correct?


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  5:19 

That is correct. Yes.


Craig Macmillan  5:20 

How did you find out about it? What was the process like when you first connected with vineyard team in the scholarship program? How did how did this come about for you?


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  5:28 

So I found out about the scholarship through my dad's job. So my dad is currently employed by messa vineyard management, he works as a tractor driver and Sierra Madre Vineyard, which is located in Santa Maria, I'm not sure who exactly approached him with information about the scholarship, but it was something through his work. And he came home one day, and he gave me the application. He's like, I think this would be great for you to apply to it's a scholarship. I know, you're always seeking scholarship opportunities, you should give this a try. And of course, I was like I, I will do it. You know, like I was always seeking these type of opportunities throughout my college journey. And so I went for it. And the process was very simple. It was great communicating with the Vineyard Team. If I had any questions, it was very straightforward and clear. The application process itself was very simple. And I'm just super grateful for it, I had no idea that it would lead to a multi year scholarship recipient outcome. And I can't express enough in words that I'm so thankful for that in the change that I made throughout my college educational journey was just undescribable. It was very impactful for sure.


Craig Macmillan  6:37 

So the first award that got you started. And where did you go to school?


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  6:42 

So I attend a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. First award, I believe I received in 2017. So it was during my sophomore year at Cal Poly. And during this time, I was pursuing a degree a Bachelors of Science degree in animal science. So that was my initial career direction. I would definitely say that the scholarship not only represented financial assistance for me to be able to afford my education at the time. But really the way I saw it was an opportunity to open up doors throughout my educational journey, and kind of helped me figure out a little bit more what direction I could take career wise connections through the Vineyard Team really kind of helped me land where I am today. And I can definitely talk more about that if you'd like me too.


Well. Yeah. I'm curious because first of all, Beth, students do not have to be pursuing a degree in an agricultural area. Right? They can they can be pursuing any career paths that correct?


Elizabeth Vukmanic  7:37 

That's correct. Yeah. We're happy to support students that are pursuing any kind of career. So it doesn't have to be an ag, although sometimes we find ones that are still working and viniculture too.


Craig Macmillan  7:46 

So Evelyn, but you were doing animal science?


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  7:49 



Craig Macmillan  7:50 

How did you how did you move then into the viticultural world? How was what was that path link ? How did that happen?


Unknown Speaker  7:56 

Yeah, I love sharing the story. Um, it's an interesting one. So animal science, for me started out with my passion for animals, I always kind of assumed, okay, I will have a career that has to do with working with animals and helping them. And it's one of those things that as I navigated Cal Poly with my animal science degree, I just kind of came to a point where I realized I was learning a lot of valuable information but I just didn't feel like my heart was in it. It wasn't speaking to me. And so I realized that this is probably not the field where I want to obtain a career that I would be content with. And so then I started to think about any other fields I could possibly explore that would interest me and I thought about my dad's job. He's always worked in vineyards for as long as I can remember, remember, ever since I was really young, I decided to explore that through a research project that was presented to me at Cal Poly. And that was my first exposure to vineyards, specifically, wine diseases is what I worked with, and I ended up falling in love with it. And I wanted more I wanted to dive in a little bit deeper into the viticulture industry.


Craig Macmillan  9:03 

I think there were a lot of us that started doing something else and then got exposed and we got the bug. After that you kind of just can't look back. I know so many people have that story. So you completed your undergrad at Cal Poly? Is that correct?


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  9:16 

Correct. Yes.


Craig Macmillan  9:17 

And was at that point, was the wine and viticulture program happening? Or was this a fruit science degree? Where were you at?


Unknown Speaker  9:23 

At that time, I finished off my degree in animal science just because by the time I realized I was really interested in viticulture a little too late to change my major. So I finished my degree animal science and then I decided to do a master's in agriculture with a specialization in crop science. That was the closest I could get to having a research experience related to viticulture, just because of the moment Cal Poly doesn't offer a specific master's program for wine and vit but it was a great opportunity. I decided to take that route just to kind of specialize a little bit more in my field of interest.


Craig Macmillan  9:56 

And did you get scholarship money through your masters?


Unknown Speaker  9:59 

Yes, I did get scholarship money from other vineyard organizations. The Vineyard Team scholarship specifically was throughout my undergrad journey, my undergraduate degree, which was an animal science. Needless to say, this scholarship did help expose me more to this industry through connections, talking to people who already were embedded in the industry. And it really did help me get my foot in the door in the matter speaking for kind of ended up where I am now. So.


Craig Macmillan  10:31 

Were there things that the scholarship allowed you to do that you otherwise would not have been able to do? Because I remember talking to some folks who want it and they some of its tuition, but some of it's also things like rent and food or the ability to travel potentially, or something like that, or the materials that they needed. How did they How did the money help you? What did you What were you able to do that you would otherwise not have been able to do?


Unknown Speaker  10:52 

Many things. And what was important for me is my parents at the time had other things to worry about in terms of expenses, and I have two older sisters. So they were also helping them get through their college journeys. And so the biggest thing for me was able to take a weight off of my parents shoulders in terms of having to financially support me. And this scholarship made a huge difference in me being able to take care of rent, take care of book costs, or any type of trips related to my classes, I was taking any extracurricular activities that kind of helped me dive deeper into my interest, career wise. So it definitely made a huge difference in being able to afford these opportunities and being able to become more involved in activities I was very interested in participating in for sure.


Craig Macmillan  11:44 

Do you think you would have gotten into the vineyard industry without the scholarship?


Unknown Speaker  11:47 

No. I think part of it was the research opportunity that I was presented at Cal Poly, but really this current job that I have now, I don't believe I would have attained it if it wasn't for this scholarship, because it was through this scholarship and having my affiliation with the Vineyard Team and their roots in the wine growing community here that really helped me meet, they introduced me to Molly Scott, Director of Grower Relations here at Justin. And it really just connecting the dots, it played a huge role in landing me where I am now. So I don't believe that I would be in the Viticulture industry as I am today without the scholarship.


Unknown Speaker  12:33 

And so that is another part of the scholarship program where we've seen these connections being made, you know, over the years. And it's an area where we can further formalize this to with our new investment. We've had a few different students who've met different vitiulturalists at like, I remember barbecue or different video team events and ended up with jobs or internships out of them. And our membership is very supportive of the scholarship program. And not just in terms of donations. But going beyond that and wanting to offer internship opportunities wanting to offer job opportunities to the students who are recipients of it.


Craig Macmillan  13:06 

Again, how many recipients per year does it vary?


Unknown Speaker  13:09 

It does vary. Yes. So this last year was 14, we're going to be looking at adding in more because we have the capacity to add in more over the next few years. Another thing that's been interesting about the scholarship program, too, is we're really reaching for the most part first generation college students. So 98% have been first generation so far, by going into this next phase of the program, we're going to bring on an administrator who's going to help us oversee the whole program. And I think a really important component of that is kind of like a coaching element that they're going to provide, you know, not just processing applications, but actually doing active outreach to all of the recipients with tips and ideas like how to file the FAFSA form or, or college, you know, have you looked for these kinds of resources. So go into that next level of providing help support to help the students not just financially, but really get through the whole process of getting to college. A challenge that a lot of first generation college students run into is that no one of their families had this experience before, right. So they can't ask their parents, you know, like, hey, you know, how do I how do I get into school? And like, what do I do when I go to class? You know, a lot of times budgets are tight, or they might have maybe me feel guilty about like, you know, leaving their family, stuff like that. So I think having this scholarship administrator is going to provide a wonderful level of support for everyone who's a part of the program.


Craig Macmillan  14:31 

98 percent first generation. It's not a requirement, though, isn't?


Elizabeth Vukmanic  14:33 

No, it's not a requirement.


Craig Macmillan  14:35 

What are some other examples over the past golly, how ling has it been now seven years of really interesting cases or success stories of folks that have gone out and done other things or would not have made it without somehow?


Unknown Speaker  14:45 

I think an incredible story is Esteban Garcia. He was a young teenage dad, his family worked in the fields, his grandparents worked in the fields. He did the same thing too. And at a certain point, he thought, you know, is this what I'm just going to do is just sort of live this day to day, you know life or am I going to do something else. And he saw, you know, being in the United States as an opportunity to get a higher education. Later on in life, he went back to college with two children and a fiancee, works full time. Just a total Rockstar. Right now, he's been a multi year recipient, he went to Allan Hancock College, which is down in Santa Maria and then moved over to Fresno State, he actually is going into viticulture as well, and has a great job at Sea Smoke vineyards too. So that's another one of these kind of parallel stories maybe with Evelyn where he got the scholarship. And then by being involved with the Vineyard Team through us was able to make these other connections and move into a nice career as he graduates school.


Craig Macmillan  15:45 

Evelyn, you're relatively early in your career. It sounds like this is a completely personal question. Where do you want to? This isn't like an interview question. Where do you want to be five years from now? Where do you want to be 10 years from now? How do you what do you see your trajectory being?


Unknown Speaker  15:59 

Oh, man, yeah. I love to think about that all the time and plan. What I have clear right now is my interest in viticulture, anything related to wine grapes. Honestly, my biggest goal at this moment is to just advance in my career, I like to apply value to what I've learned and not only be able to apply that in a job, but also continue growing professionally. Five years from now 10 years from now I see myself without a doubt still being an agriculture still been in this industry. Who knows I may kind of divert a little bit from viticulture, we try horticulture, you know, even different avenue, but for sure still in the agriculture world. I know agricultural is for me, it's in my family. It's been for years. So this is where I want to stay for sure. Honestly, right now, I guess to put it in a clearer way is I'm open to opportunities that offer learning and growing. And that is really what I am seeking after. So.


Craig Macmillan  17:04 

As someone who's come out the other side and have educational piece, what would you say? How would you mentor a young person who's just senior in high school or freshman in college, about how they should navigate all this and how they should look for help.


Unknown Speaker  17:17 

My biggest point of advice would be take the time to research take the time to get to know and become familiar with opportunities are out there. For most scholarships that I received, including the Vineyard Team scholarship, I wouldn't have known if I didn't either hear it from someone that I knew or look more into it by doing my own research. So I know sometimes it can be like, oh, man, I don't know if I have time for this, you know, to write an essay or ask for a reference letter or a reference, but it's worth it. It's the few hours or even minutes that you put towards a scholarship application can result in something so big like landing an ideal career, you know, I'm opening the door to a route that really will land you where you want to be career wise. And that's what happened to me, and I can't stress enough. I always talk to my peers, and people that I know are currently navigating college and they say, you should, you know, definitely take the time to apply to scholarships, use your resources, talk to people, you know, and it will never have a negative outcome for sure. And you will always have something rewarding come out of that. So that's my biggest point of advice for people.


Craig Macmillan  18:31 

And turning back to Beth, I think the idea of having an administrator who not only manages numbers, but also helps to managing council people is a really, really great thing. I think better, scholarships had that it would be more successful, not just in getting people but also the outcomes. I think that's really wonderful. Beth, how is it techniques and getting the word out to the community about the scholarship?


Unknown Speaker  18:53 

A lot of times the scholarship gets sorted out by word of mouth. We also have a newsletter on our website, if anyone wants to sign up for that. And in there, we've been sharing some wonderful stories about students like Evelyn and updates on the scholarship program. And then a lot of it ends up going through like Evelyn said to through the vineyard management companies, because they're telling their staff about it, who's been telling their children about it to help them apply.


Craig Macmillan  19:19 

Where do you see this going? You've talked about multi year awards. You've talked about getting to more students, what's your five year tenure plan for this scholarship path? Where do you see this headed?


Unknown Speaker  19:29 

I will look forward to the next phase of the scholarship. We're going to be making some of these tweaks, I guess, to our current system so that we can really solidify a lot of these great things that were already naturally happening. I'm really excited about the multi-year scholarships. I think we can come up with a really good communications plan with the administrator for the students and really figure out like what their pain points are like, where are they struggling, where do they need more help? Maybe doing even more conversations with the students themselves with the question that you just asked Evelyn like what is your piece of advice you would give somebody who is in your shoes, you know that you were just issues a few years ago, I think all of those are going to be really, really valuable to everyone participating in the program.


Craig Macmillan  20:12 

Which reminds me something. So who's on the selection committee? How are already selected?


Beth Vukmanic  20:17 

So we have seven different members on the selection committee. And the way that the process works is once the applications come in, we blind them. So you know, so they don't know whose application they're reading. And all of the applicants, you know, give kind of like basic information about themselves, you know, where they are in school right now, what they plan on doing, but then they always write these wonderful, you'll have more personal essays where we get to learn more about them as an individual. And so this selection committee will spend their time reading through all of these applications, and then sort of discussing based off of need, which students will get a scholarship that year.


Craig Macmillan  20:54 

And these are folks in the vineyard and winery industry. They are, what is the cycle? Where do students go to apply? What time of year does it take place? What's the timeframe? Like how does that work?


Unknown Speaker  21:04 

Applications are going to be opening up in March for students, so they can be popping on vineyard, to see when applications go live.


Craig Macmillan  21:15 

That's fantastic. I had been involved as well over the years, I think this is a fantastic thing. I have also followed some individuals through the process. And it's been very rewarding for me as a person. And I know it's rewarding for them, because I could see outcomes that happen that otherwise never would happen. I really am proud of you, Evelyn, I think you've done great. And I'm glad that you participated. And I'm super proud of you, Beth, for making this all happen over the years. This is not a small task, but it started. And then the successes, runaway and really, really exciting. What can people do to support? You mentioned the website? Is there anything else people can do?


Unknown Speaker  21:51 

We are fundraising for this. So although must has raised $1.3 million for the program, we actually have to match a chunk of that money in order to be able to apply it to the scholarship program. So matching funds are really, really important to to help us keep this going. People can go ahead and donate at being your And right now our goal is to raise $75,000 By giving Tuesday, which is November 29, 2022.


Craig Macmillan  22:18 

That's fantastic. Well, that's all the time we have for today. I thank you both so much for being here. Beth Vukmanic, executive director of Vineyard Team and Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza, assistant grower relations representative for Justin Winery. Again, there's gonna be information in the show notes, look online, go to the links, get a checkbook, please support this project. This has done so much good for so many people and all of us very excited to say continue. Thank you both for being here.


Evelyn Alvarez Mendoza  22:46 

Thank you so much.


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