College of Agriculture


George Buonaccorsi

When George Buonaccorsi left the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County to attend college at Chico State, he wiped his hands of the wine and grape industry he had grown up in. His father managed a vineyard and prune orchard near Healdsburg for 20 years, and George swore he would never again cut his fingers or break his back growing grapes and prunes. His career sights were set on professional baseball. Four decades later, George Buonaccorsi looks back in wonder on the path that led him to become the 2009 College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus for his work in the wine industry and support of CSU, Chico.

Buonaccorsi was the first in his family to attend college. His parents emigrated from Tuscany in the 1920's, and Buonaccorsi recalls that it was a challenge for his family to help him get through school at Chico State. George worked his way through college with various jobs, including on the University Farm where he grew a barley project two years in a row. "I made money in the first year, then lost it in the second," Buonaccorsi recalls. "It was a good lesson in farming."

He graduated in 1966 with a degree in agriculture, then set off to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball as a catcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization. When it became clear that he would not advance to the major leagues behind Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, Buonaccorsi resumed his education and earned a masters degree in food science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He went to work in quality control for California Canners and Growers, where he also met his wife, Vicki.

Times were tough in the canning industry, and George and Vicki were both laid off within a week of one another. Despite his intention to stay out of the wine business, George went to work for E & J Gallo in quality control and grower relations. It was through his work with growers that Buonaccorsi's career really began to take off.

During his 37 years in the wine business, Buonaccorsi has developed a reputation as a fair and effective negotiator who seeks to understand the growers' needs in addition to those of his company. He gives some of the credit for his skill in relationship-building to his time at Chico State. "College gave me a good foundation in how to deal with people and understand personalities. Part of it is the social environment, but that contributes to a well-rounded education."

Buonaccorsi has spent the past 23 years of his career with Beringer Vineyards, owned by Foster's Group. He is the Vice President for Wine and Grape Resources for Foster's Wine Estates Americas. In this role he is responsible for 8,600 acres of company vineyards, and he oversees the management of the Grower Relations Department, which purchases grapes and wine in most of California's viticulture regions. He has also served on the CSU, Chico College of Agriculture Advisory Council since 2000, and is a strong supporter of both the College of Agriculture and Chico State Athletics.

"Higher education at the state colleges was a bargain when I was a student, and I believe it still is," George said. "My education at Chico has contributed to my career success, so I try to do what I can personally to help the school and give back."

Buonaccorsi was awarded the 2009 Distinguished Alumnus honor at a ceremony on April 24, 2009 in the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium.