Molly Hodgins’ path into the wine industry – and eventually the Napa Valley – began more than 2,700 miles away. “I was a biology major at Cornell University and I took a wine-tasting class at the hotel management school – really opened my eyes to me as a 21-year-old student,” she recalled last week of the unlikely introduction to her future career.
Through nearly two decades, the Upstate New York native would follow that inspiration to the UC Davis viticulture program, then to wineries in California and Oregon – and now to Napa Valley College, which has hired her as its instructor of viticulture, the science of grapevines.
Last month, the 40-year-old Napa resident became the second major hire in as many years at the two-year school’s Viticulture and Winery Technology program. She joins Paul Gospodarczyk, whom the college selected as program coordinator and head winemaker last year.
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Hodgins inherits a program that evolved over three decades from a wood-frame shed to a vineyard, teaching winery and creator of industry jobs under the direction of Stephen Krebs, the wine program coordinator who retired in 2014.
Students in the NVC program can work toward a certificate or a two-year associate of science degree, with specialties in viticulture, winemaking, or marketing and sales.
Still in the early weeks of her first semester of training future wine industry workers, Hodgins hopes to carry on the NVC program’s tradition of hands-on vineyard education while building an even deeper base of scientific understanding of the vines that drive Napa’s dominant business.
“The general spirit of it, the science (Krebs) taught, is something I’d like to maintain,” she said last week. “The student vineyard is tremendously important in giving people experience before they go out working in the wine field, and that’s something I’d like to strengthen and build on.
“I’d like to open up the viticulture industry, the management side, to more people, especially people who grew up in the valley but haven’t had the access.”
Raised in Albany, New York, Hodgins followed in her father’s footsteps by training as a horticulturist before gaining a biology degree at Cornell. After moving west to enroll in the UC, Davis viticulture program and earning a master’s degree in horticulture, she worked as a viticulture assistant at Stags’ Leap Winery outside Yountville, vineyard manager of the Chehalem winery in Newberg, Oregon, and most recently as viticulturist for the Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards.
With her move from winery to campus, Hodgins looks forward to giving the NVC curriculum a more intensive scientific bent in such disciplines as irrigation management, pest monitoring and ampelography, the botanical study of vines.
Deeper dives into the nuts and bolts of grapegrowing “are something I’m very aware of that’s needed in viticulture and vineyard management right now,” said Hodgins. “I’m also much more of a science-oriented person; science is my first love and (my career in) viticulture grew from that.”
“Her extensive vineyard experience, combined with a stunning academic background, gives me a lot of hope for the future of the viticulture and winery technology program,” Gospodarczyk said Monday by email. “We’re fortunate she joined our team.”
Another goal of Hodgins’ is to create firmer bonds between the college’s wine instruction programs and the Napa Valley’s trade groups, a step she said can broaden students’ horizons even after they graduate and head into the wine industry themselves.
“I want to introduce students to the resources of the Grapegrowers, the Farm Bureau, the UC Davis extension seminars; that’s one thing I’d like to bring in more of,” she said. “Once you start working, your education doesn’t stop.”