Al MacDonald is getting one heck of a retirement gift.
And that’s not referencing his new wine-colored hat.
MacDonald, who is retiring from Chemeketa Community College after 15 years of guiding the college’s viticulture program from its roots, has been named 2014’s Wine Person of the Year by Oregon Wine Press magazine.
A deserved award, as noted by the wine industry reception held at Chemeketa’s Northwest Wine Studies Center in Eola on December 15 to honor MacDonald both for the award and his retirement.
“I’m not sure I can think of anyone else who has had more influence on the practices in our vineyards than Al,” said Betty O’Brien, the chair of the college’s Wine Studies program advisory committee.
MacDonald was the first instructor hired by Chemeketa in 1999 to begin what was then called the Vineyard Management/Winemaking program. Back then, the program was based out of Building 50 on the Salem campus.
Over the last decade and a half, MacDonald has taught numerous students in the management of wine grapes who have gone on to take on roles in the booming Willamette Valley wine industry and beyond. He also saw the program move beyond Building 50 with the development of the Northwest Wine Studies Center, which now houses Chemeketa’s programs in vineyard management, winemaking and wine marketing.
Beyond the classroom, MacDonald is noted for his role as a founding member of the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) program, which provides education and input on how to grow wine grapes and produce wine sustainably by reducing the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals and fuel used in production.
His accomplishments were credited along with his humor and personality, which came to the forefront of when Keebler showed him the gift of a new hat picked up from a Portland haberdashery. MacDonald quickly put it on and gave the audience ample opportunity to snap photos.
In addressing his well-wishers, MacDonald said he “learned more from the students than they ever learned from me” and also put his humor on display once more.
“I’ll still be around,” he said, “but I might not answer e-mail as quickly as I used to.”