Cristian Oggenfuss, founder of educational institution Napa Valley Wine Academy, was practically born for wine. “My family has been in the wine business for a couple of generations on the retail side in Europe, so I grew up with it when I lived for part of my life in Zurich, Switzerland,” he says. “My grandfather had a chain of grocery stores, was even a wine collector, and my father continued in his business.”
Still, Oggenfuss never really considered joining the chain, actually working as a location scout on Walker, Texas Ranger when his father called his newlywed son and offered him a spot in the family trade. “I gave it a try and ended up discovering it wasn’t for me, but it was important, partly because it taught me more about wine.” And a particular present from his brother-in-law also helped grow his interest. “There was one wine bottle that helped lead me down this road that I received for my birthday,” he says. “It was a Tokay, a dessert wine from Hungary in a small 50 cl bottle. It was sweet and luscious and had complexity—it showed me all the more how exciting wine can be.”
Both getting a Wines and Spirits diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and working in marketing for multiple companies in the wine business, including for Treasury Wine Estates, the Napa Valley Wine Academy was eventually something Oggenfuss worked on part time, ultimately flourishing. “There was first one full-time employee and, over time, I became the second one, quitting my job,” he explains.
But it didn’t stop there. Presently with nine full-time employees and 25 instructors throughout the U.S., the Napa Valley Wine Academy is now a multimillion-dollar company, providing wine education for consumers and the wine industry. “It’s been a terrific ride and journey,” he says. “Wine is so much more than just the bottle you see. It often tells a story involving many people passionate enough to make it happen.”