Robert L. Wample, whose nine years at the helm of its viticulture and enology research programs helped vault California State University, Fresno to global agricultural education prominence, is retiring. He will be honored Sept. 19 for his impact on the university and the grape and wine industry.

The Sept. 19 event is also a fundraiser to establish the Robert L. Wample Viticulture and Enology Endowment Fund to support the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology’s viticulture and enology program. Tickets cost $50.

A search is under way for Wample’s successor. Dr. James Prince, professor of biology, was named the interim department chair for viticulture and enology. Dr. Charles Boyer, dean of Jordan College, will oversee the VERC position during the transition.

Under Wample’s leadership, the program bloomed as viticulture and enology were merged at Fresno State after nearly 50 years operating independently. Wample helped establish an updated curriculum that engages the industry and instituted undergraduate and graduate certificates and degrees.

In 2000, Fresno State was the first California State University campus to combine its viticulture and enology research and academic offerings. A viticulture curriculum, had been offered through the Plant Science Department and the enology curriculum, was offered through the Enology, Food Science and Nutrition Department.

Consolidation was accomplished with input from the grape and wine industry and VERC’s Industry Advisory Board, establishing Wample’s trademark of engaging community support for the program’s academic mission.

“This period [2000-2009] in the viticulture and enology program’s history has been a considerable time of growth and change,” said Dean Boyer. “Bob is one of the driving forces behind making today’s Department of Viticulture and Enology a reality. He truly provided the foundation for success.”

More than 125 viticulture and enology students are enrolled this year.

Prince, who has conducted research projects through the VERC, said his predecessor “has shown outstanding leadership in the development of Bachelor of Science degrees in viticulture or enology, a master’s degree in viticulture and enology, and certificates of special study in both enology and sustainable viticulture.”

Wample also was program coordinator for Fresno State’s Agricultural Foundation table grape, wine and raisin grape and Fresno State Winery enterprises.

As department chair and director of research, he has worked closely with the university’s Viticulture and Enology Industry Advisory Board.

Wample has raised well over $500,000 of industry funding for his research program. He gives credit to the grape and wine industry for supporting Fresno State. Examples include a major gift from the Boswell family to build the World Cooperage Barrel House at the Fresno State Winery and establishment of the Bronco Wine Co. Viticulture Chair position, filled by Kaan Kurtural in 2008.

“It has been an honor to be a part of the growth of the grape and wine program at Fresno State,” said Wample. “Along the way, I have enjoyed working with many fine students, staff, faculty and industry partners who recognize the positive impact that Fresno State’s grape and wine program offers to our students, and to the grape and wine industry.”