Thomas Montgomery smiled recently. Nostalgia had hit him as he recounted exploring the Sierra Nevada with his father from a young age. It was a time that helped forge a personal connection between him and the central San Joaquin Valley.
“I started roaming the Sierra and climbing when I was about 12 years old,” Montgomery said.
His father, Richard Montgomery, served as a chairperson and faculty member of Fresno State’s geography department for 20 years.
And Montgomery himself made Fresno State his alma mater too. He studied here under the department of viticulture and enology’s legendary founder Vincent E. Petrucci.
Now, as Montgomery steps foot once again at Fresno State, he comes back home as the university’s latest winemaker. The position had been previously filled by Matt Brain since 2015.
“It will be great to have people enjoy the wines the students are making,” Montgomery said. “At this point in my career I’ve done it for myself, and now I can help them do it for themselves and find a place in the industry, and it gets me back home, too.”
Montgomery received his bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology from Fresno State in 1979.
His nearly 40-year career in winemaking began in the Central Valley with his first jobs at E&J Gallo Winery in Fresno and United Vintners in Reedley.
For decades, Montgomery has had a bright career, producing several award-winning wines for wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. He has also worked with a variety of grapes and growers from all over California.
Montgomery said he is thrilled to assist the viticulture and enology students with his winemaking expertise. And he is thrilled to return to a familiar vineyard.
Students in the viticulture and enology programs also seem excited to benefit from Montgomery’s winemaking passion.
“Just from meeting him, I can tell he’s very open and tries really hard to get the students involved,” said junior student Brittaney Bem, who is in the enology program. “He’s already been so willing to help me out and give me advice. He’s a man of wisdom.”
Students and faculty associated with the Fresno State Winery seem to share the same feeling of optimism for the department.
Under Montgomery’s supervision, the winery is expecting the next harvest to reach about 160 tons of grapes, a significant increase from the 53 tons harvested last season.
Montgomery said he plans to get the students slightly out of their comfort zone by producing wine on a larger scale and performing tasks that they have not done before but that are staple jobs in the wine industry.
The program looks to combine the traditional learning from the classroom with practical experience in the campus winery.
“Whether that’s making the $150 dollar a bottle Cab [cabernet sauvignon] or making the $10 dollar muscat that’s local,” Montgomery said. “I think what I’m attempting to do is widen their experience level.”