In Vino Donum

Antonia Allegra ’67 is sharing her knowledge of wine with Santa Clara by donating her enology collection to the University Library and Archives.

In Vino Donum
Winemaking in the 14th century. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Food isn’t just about what’s on the dining table or what’s filling your stomach, it’s an art form and Antonia Allegra ’67 has been practicing her technique for years. 

“[Cooking] is playing with ingredients to make people happy,” Allegra says. “It’s that combo of making the creative part happen like a painter would use paint to make artistic work come alive.”

Between her big Italian family coming together around the dinner table and the time that Allegra spent in France, she’s long found comfort and familiarity in a place through its food. When she moved to San Diego in the 1970s, she quickly made her home into a place for food and began offering cooking classes. For eight years, Allegra taught three classes most weeks and students would cram themselves into her shoebox of a family room, forging lifelong friendships while whipping up meringue.

One of her students happened to work at the San Diego Union-Tribune and this connection led Allegra to expand into writing as the food editor for the paper. Since then, whether through writing, leading classes, or founding symposia for food and wine writers, Allegra has continued to share her love of food and wine. Now, she’s sharing with Santa Clara by donating her collection of enology books—on the history of wine and winemaking—to the University Library and Archives.

From sipping diluted wine at supper as a kid to listening to tales of her grandfather making his own during Prohibition, wine has always been a part of Allegra’s life. When she followed her first husband to UC Davis, Allegra worked at the university’s library and spent her breaks in their food section. Later, she worked in Davis’s famed enology department and assembled a comprehensive bibliography about vermouth as part of a research project. 

“It’s not just the joy of drinking a glass of wine at the table with your friends,” Allegra says of finding fascination in the world of wine. “It also comes from understanding the eons of evolution in winemaking, and the constant question,  ‘What is in that glass and why do you experience it the way you do?’ You’re looking for the qualities that distinguish one wine from other wines.”

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In simple terms, winemaking involves the fermentation of fruit juice typically from grapes. Yeast consumes and converts the sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Flavor is affected by the length of fermentation and when the fruits are harvested. Photo courtesy rawpixel.

Winemaking is a delicate process, and tiny variations can change entire outcomes. From the timing of harvest to the length of fermentation, every little thing can give a wine its own unique flavor. Through her donation, Allegra hopes that students and professors will learn about the history, science, and artistry of wine.

“We are our choices,” Allegra says. “I’m the result of choosing to move to the Napa Valley, choosing to start cooking schools and writers’ symposia, [and] choosing to collect and, now, donate my wine library to Santa Clara. In life, there are so many choices to make. I do love this feeling of giving the books to the library and I enjoyed going through them, boxing them, cataloging them, seeing them in my home for the last time, and thinking, ‘Go with the Broncos, go for it.’”

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