California Representative Jackie Speier, U.S. Treasurer Anna Escobedo Cabral, Chef Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook fame and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ex-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle are just some of UC Davis’ famous Aggies. Another UCD alumnus made headlines last week.
Tareq Salahi, a UC Davis alumnus, and his wife Michaele attended the Obamas’ state dinner in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 24. They shook President Obama’s hand and met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the dinner’s guest of honor. They were not on the guest list, according to White House officials.
Pat Bailey, a UC Davis spokesperson, confirmed that Salahi graduated from UC Davis in March 1994.
“He majored in an individual major called ‘enology and business management,’ which would suggest he took winemaking and business management courses,” Bailey said. “That major was within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”
Today, Salahi is using his viticulture and enology degree at his Virginia winery, Oasis Winery. The winery’s website lists Salahi’s UCD background and says his wine studies focused in sparkling wines.
Andy Waterhouse, viticulture and enology chair, was familiar with Salahi and had visited his Virginia winery a few years ago, Waterhouse said in a recent Sacramento Bee interview.
“He ran with a pretty high [social] circle,” Waterhouse said. “He was making an effort to get more fame for Virginia wines.”
Viticulture and enology professor emeritus Ann Noble, told the Sacramento Bee Salahi was involved with the social life at UC Davis, along with his winemaking studies. She had been in touch with him since he graduated, she said.
“He has sent me some wine,” Noble said in the article. “And the wine was fine.”
Noble is the creator of the Wine Aroma Wheel, a tool to help tasters describe flavors and complexities of different varietals.
In their first television interview on MSNBC earlier this week, the Salahis told host Matt Laurer they were “devastated” and “shocked” by the media’s allegations that they crashed the presidential dinner. The couple upheld they had been invited.
“Our lives have been destroyed,” said Michaele, regarding the barrage of media stories on newscasts, websites and newspapers. “Everything I’ve worked for in the past 44 years has been destroyed.”
Salahi said he and his wife respect the White House and Secret Services’ investigation.
“We will continue to work with the U.S. Secret Service completely all the way through this process,” Salahi said in the interview.
Facebook groups have sprung up in response to the security breech at America’s most secure house. Some groups poked fun at the situation, while others portray the Salahis as criminals, violating security laws.
A few UC Davis students said the situation is more serious than comical.
“It’s not funny if they shook Obama’s hand,” said junior wildlife, fish and conservation biology major Claire Woolf. “If anyone can do that, it’s really bad. It can lead to unforeseen problems.”
When told Salahi was a UCD graduate, current students had a chuckle.
“He’s obviously not a national security threat if he’s from Davis,” said Ariel Sarver, a senior English and French double major.
Senior international relations major Holly Locke said the media onslaught is too much for this story.
“It seems like it’s been getting too much attention,” she said. “It’s like ‘Octomom.'”
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.