Though her parents don’t drink and she’s just 18 years old, Mercy Torres is walking bravely into a life of wine, heading to study wine and viticulture at Cal Poly this week with the support of a full-ride scholarship aimed at BIPOC students.
The Carpinteria native and Carp High grad — who grew to appreciate the culture of wine while working for the past two years at Corktree Cellars on Linden Avenue — is the first of two students to benefit from Delicato Family Wines’ Winemaker Scholarship Program. Nearly 100 students from across California applied for the four-year scholarship, which also comes with professional mentorship, summer internships, and post-graduate work for the Manteca-based wine company.
“I thought I was too late — I got super stressed,” said Torres, who was told about the scholarship by Cal Poly’s financial aid office. “But I was able to get everything done. It was a lot of hard work, but obviously so rewarding and amazing. It’s like a big fat miracle.”
The other scholarship winner is Ariana Godina, who grew up in Madera, participated in Future Farmers of America throughout high school, and will also be attending Cal Poly. “Coming from a family of Mexican immigrants, I am excited to break cycles in my family and push the expectations set for me,” she said.
The scholarship is one of many across the wine industry that came in the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter and related equity movements. The aim is to increase diversity in the wine business, which has historically been dominated by white men.
“This scholarship program represents Delicato’s continued commitment to helping the next generation of leaders pursue their dreams,” said Delicato’s CEO Chris Indelicato. “We are excited to be a part of their bright futures, and we look forward to the innovative contributions these students will make to our industry.” The next round of scholarship applications will open in February 2022.
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Torres is taking an unlikely path. “My parents are actually not wine drinkers or drinkers at all — both are dry,” she explained, but her work at Corktree revealed another perspective. “That’s where my interest developed. I began to appreciate people’s relationships and traditions with wine drinking.”
As part of the application process, Torres visited the Delicato headquarters. “That was so cool to see their big facility in Manteca, and just being able to ask all kinds of questions and learn so many things in my short stay there,” said Torres.
Her parents are supportive, though initially they figured this was just one of her many whims. “When I first applied for wine and viticulture, they thought it was funny,” she said. Their opinions changed when the scholarship got serious. “They both are Christians,” she said. “When I got the scholarship, they took it as a sign that this was what I was meant to be doing.”
Torres is moving up to San Luis Obispo on September 14, with Cal Poly classes starting up the next week. “This is a clear pathway,” she said. “I’m super thankful. It’s something to keep me going.”