$500,000 donation will support viticulture and provide a path to the future

Posted on April 24, 2020 by Dana Poleski

Viticulture at Sweet Briar

Cornelia Long Matson ’58 has committed to making a gift of $500,000 to support Sweet Briar College’s viticulture activities, which are a centerpiece of the school’s agricultural enterprises.

Virginia’s rapidly growing wine industry offers a ready market for Sweet Briar’s grapes, as upwards of 75 percent of grapes for wines marketed from the Commonwealth must be grown within the state, and vintners periodically experience shortages.

Fields with the appropriate slopes, elevations, soils and accessibility have been designated for the development of a wine grape production model over a three-year period. Rootstock for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc varietals—identified as most appropriate for Sweet Briar’s microclimate—were planted in spring 2019.

Matson has international experience in wine. She and her husband owned and operated a vineyard and winery in Dordogne, France, from 1998 to 2013, and they sold their wine all over the world. She’s delighted to support the College’s endeavor in agriculture and ecology.

Matson believes Sweet Briar offers something different from what students can get at a large university. She is proud of how far the College has come. “The rebirth of Sweet Briar College has been a miracle. What Presidents Phil Stone and Meredith Woo, the board and the alumnae have done is just so impressive,” she said. “This is a new chapter for Sweet Briar and the College deserves our support,” she remarked.

“I’m so grateful to Cornelia for both her expertise and generosity,” says President Meredith Woo. “Her support indicates her confidence in our overall direction, and helps lay a solid foundation for our future. We hope others will want to follow her lead with investments in this new enterprise.”

In addition to the viticulture activities, the College’s agricultural operations include an apiary and a 26,000-square-foot greenhouse, scheduled to open in just a few weeks. These initiatives are part of Sweet Briar’s commitment to educating future leaders in agriculture, sustainability and conservation.

This is particularly important in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About 36 percent of primary farm operators in Virginia are female. Grapes and viticulture account for more than $19 million in cash receipts for Virginia farmers, and agriculture provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.

Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo has prioritized the stewardship of the College’s natural and built environment—with agriculture playing a central role in this vision. “More and more women are returning to land,” Woo said. “Throughout history, women have worked the land in some capacity, especially in times of war. Now, women are actively choosing farming as a career, and the Commonwealth has been a notable leader in this regard. Sweet Briar is uniquely positioned to train young women who can combine their liberal arts education with the knowledge and ethics of environmental stewardship.”