By Benjamin Ginsburg
Don Van Wie spends most of his time as the manager of the environmental health and safety department for UC Davis Facilities Management, but he is also the proprietor of a small winery known as Wasted Grape.
Van Wie and winemaking partner Jake Stuessy started their business in 2011 after hearing about a grape grower in California’s Suisun Valley who was forced to discard a large amount of Viognier grapes after a deal fell through. The partners quickly reacted by buying the grapes, which they later processed into their first wine. They were surprised and pleased with the results. And they weren’t the only ones: award-winning restaurant Hakkasan in San Francisco featured Wasted Grape wine on their menu.
“Hakkasan was a big deal for us, and we thought this might be a good business model,” Van Wie said. “All the major winemakers want to get their fruit from these rock star vineyards in Napa; meanwhile, there are all these lesser-known vineyards in the area with beautifully grown fruit, and that’s what we use to make our wine.”
Wasted Grape has become something of a boutique winery. They produce only a couple hundred cases per year and quickly sell out of their stock. Keeping in mind the joke that in the wine business it takes a big fortune to make a small fortune, Van Wie and Stuessy have found success by keeping their staff small and renting their space. But the artistry of winemaking does not require fancy facilities or expensive grapes. When it comes to the details of the craft, Stuessy’s creative process is determined by knowledge and experience supplemented by winemaking courses at UC Davis Extension.
“UC Davis is the university for wine,” Van Wie said. “If you have a relationship with them, that’s a very good thing.”
Part of the Aggie Family
Van Wie’s work in UC Davis Facilities Management affects the entire university. His department ensures that all staff and faculty on campus work in a safe and rewarding environment. On multiple occasions, Van Wie has been the direct contact for someone needing help, and these opportunities connect him more deeply to the UC Davis community. After 14 years of working for UC Davis, Van Wie feels that he has become part of a family that invests in his success and personal improvement—qualities he also tries to instill in his management style.
Van Wie’s love for UC Davis motivated him to add Wasted Grape to the list of Cal Aggie Alumni Association (CAAA) wine partners. He donated $8,500 worth of Wasted Grape’s wine, which has since been featured in several CAAA events, including the prestigious 2017 Alumni Awards Gala.
“Leadership at UC Davis has always invested in people who want to go further and do a better job,” Van Wie said. “They’ve given me professional development, extra education and opportunities to run special programs. If you show the ambition and the work ethic, they help you succeed. I think about all the ways UC Davis has invested in me, and donating my wine seemed like a small but important way to give back.”