West Sonoma Coast

FRCC Professor is the California Viticultural Expert You’ve Never Heard Of

If you’re a wine lover, you’ve heard of Sonoma County—and maybe even the West Sonoma Coast, one of California’s newest American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

This designation is used on wine labels to identify a grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown.

The new West Sonoma Coast AVA was just approved by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in May—but it has been producing wines via its 47 commercial vineyards for many years.

Behind the Scenes, A Key Player

Chances are you haven’t heard of Patrick Shabram, geography faculty member at FRCC’s Larimer Campus, who has been doing geographic research in the wine industry for more than 20 years.

He was the petitioner for creation of the West Sonoma Coast AVA, a project he’s been involved with since 2015. And that’s just the one of several viticultural areas Patrick has been instrumental in helping to establish.

An Unlikely Start

Patrick, who moved to California in high school, earned his bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Colorado-Boulder. After a few years working in restaurants and teaching English in Japan, he returned to California in 1995 to pursue a master’s in geography at San Jose State University.

“My work in the wine industry actually started with my master’s thesis on Russian River Valley viticulture,” he says. His interest in the subject was sparked, in large part, by his time working at upscale restaurants. Once his thesis was complete, Patrick donated a copy of it to the Sonoma Wine Library—and the Russian River Winegrowers Association invited him to give a presentation on his work.

At that point, he didn’t expect his graduate studies to result in work in the wine industry. So upon graduation, he accepted a position as a market researcher doing location analysis for retailers—helping them identify strategic sites for opening new stores. His new job was a great way to use his geography skills and education.

Working With Wine Growers

“A year later, I got a call from a group of growers on the Sonoma Coast asking me to do a study on the Fort Ross-Seaview area,” he recalls. His research and petition led to the creation of the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA in late 2011.

From there, word of Patrick’s research expertise spread, and other vintners and winegrowers’ groups reached out to hire him as a consultant. He has submitted petitions for the establishment or modification of many other AVAs, mostly in California.

He’s done research in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Tehama counties—and has advised wine professionals in the Texas High Plains AVA and the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon.

A Passion for Teaching

Patrick has been teaching since the start of his career, but for the first decade it was his side gig. “When I was working in location analysis, I joined Las Positas College as an adjunct instructor,” he says.

“I’ve had different roles as a geographer, and was a marketing manager for a winery management software company. But the two things I continued to do consistently were consult for the wine industry and teach. And I always loved both.”

A Focus on Students

Eventually, Patrick decided that teaching suited him best as a full-time endeavor. After two years teaching in Texas, he applied to fill a geography faculty opening at Front Range Community College and landed the job in fall 2012.

“I love working with students,” Patrick says. “I find that FRCC students are great because of the reasons they have chosen FRCC—whether it is to return to school or to go for the first time for some intentional reason, even if that is just to explore options before making a choice on a major. It’s been fun helping students make the most of the college experience.”

Bringing Real-World Experience to the Classroom

Patrick says his consulting work blends nicely with his teaching, and he appreciates being able to pull real-world examples into the classroom. “Students want to see how the things they learn in the classroom actually matter, so I show them how maps of an AVA impact wineries within it.”

“In my landforms class, we do a unit on soils—and I always draw on my experience with soil types and AVAs. And in my weather and climate class, I’m able to talk about how the different methodologies of calculating average temperature can affect the data used to establish AVAs.”

Active Learning Through Research

Doing wine-related geographical research has inspired Patrick to get students involved in hands-on work too. He’s helped FRCC get funding from the National Science Foundation under two major grants.


The first is a collaborative grant with the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

The PRIMERS project—which stands for Promoting Research-based Instructional Methods for Enhancing and Reforming STEM Education—aims to improve undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by increasing the adoption of learner-centered, research-based instructional strategies. Patrick is one of the grant’s co-principal investigators.

“We’re seeing a big cultural shift at FRCC toward incorporating active learning into the classroom,” Patrick says. “Active learning hasn’t always been well understood so we are making sure to incorporate it in a way that benefits both students and faculty.”


The second grant he’s heavily involved with is called Geo-Launchpad, which helps engage community college students in geoscience and STEM career pathways. The three-year project is designed to help students from two-year colleges discover and prepare for these careers through mentoring, curriculum and internships.

“Our goal is to introduce students to internship opportunities and make them aware of these careers,” Patrick says. He is the principal investigator of this grant as well.

A Passionate Teacher

Jean Runyon, Vice President of FRCC’s Larimer Campus, says Patrick’s work to help students participate in various research projects inspires them to excel and contribute to their chosen fields of study.

“Patrick’s commitment to teaching excellence is unsurpassed,” she says. “His real-world work and viticultural consulting experiences provide his students with an exceptionally rich learning experience. FRCC students benefit greatly from our highly qualified, talented faculty like him.”

Peaks and Valleys

By its nature, Patrick’s wine consulting work ebbs and flows. This summer, two of his big projects have reached their culmination.

In addition to the recent approval of the West Sonoma Coast AVA, he was the petitioner for the newly established Paulsell Valley AVA, which was approved by the US TTB in June.

Located west of the Sierra Foothills of California, it’s much smaller than the West Sonoma Coast AVA. (West Sonoma spans more than 140,000 acres. Paulsell is about a quarter of that size at just 34,000.)

Balancing Consulting Work with Teaching, Research

It takes some juggling to do it all—teaching, consulting and research/mentorship—but Patrick wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I would never give up any of it,” he says. “I love my students, and I love mentoring them and helping other faculty through the NSF grants—and of course, the consulting work is really interesting. Somehow, it all works really well together.”

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