Wine Education Needs Business Element
Speakers at Sonoma State underscore importance of training in management and sales
Technical education in the wine industry is at a level unmatched in the history of winemaking. Teaching the business of wine, however, has lagged behind wine and grapegrowing science. “I strongly believe that wine industries around the world are far too technocratic—production and product-oriented—whereas it is a business like any other, which must make profit to survive,” said Johan Bruwer, a professor with the University of Adelaide School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.
Winemakers, of course, need to make palatable and sound wine to sell it. But as the wine world rapidly globalizes and consumer demand increases, those in the wine industry need a better grasp on the economics that drive sales. That was the consensus reached by a group of international wine business academics and industry executives who gathered at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., for a conference about wine business education.
Dr. Luis Miguel Albisu from the Center for Agri-Food Research and Technology of Aragon in Spain said in an email that the conference engendered international networking, which is an “extraordinary asset” for wine industries in many countries. “Wine is one of the most sophisticated agro-food products—not only in terms of the amount of technology applied, both in viticulture and enology processes, but also with respect to consumer behaviour,” he said. “Wine education needs to put together the ability to quantitatively analyze data, from production costs to financial arrangements, but also to get involved on social and psychological explanations about consumers’ reactions.”
Peter Mondavi said after the conference it was important to possess “the wisdom of the market, getting the wine in the bottle is easy to do.” Other executives at the conference included Joel Miller of Jackson Family Wines, Nancy Bailey of Gary Farrell Winery, Tom Blackwood of Boisset Family Estates, Abigail Smyth of Heck Estates and Michael Holden of Treasury Wine Estates.
Getting everyone in the same room
Anisya Thomas Fritz, owner of Lynmar Estate in Sebastopol, Calif., organized the conference and paid for the travel and lodging of those who participated. She said the idea for the conference originated from conversations with Bill Silver, dean of the SSU School of Business and Economics, and Ray Johnson, director of the SSU Wine Business Institute about the vision of wine education at the university.
She said they knew that Liz Thach, a professor of management and wine business at SSU, had the connections in the international field of business to draw a conference together. “The more we started talking, the more it became clear that we needed to have everyone in the same room,” Fritz said.
She said she was surprised by how dramatic the changes have been for the wine industry in terms of changing demand levels and the growth of sweeter wines. “From an owner’s point of view, over and over again during the conference we heard there’s a shift from product orientation to sales,” Fritz said. “There seems to be a greater and greater focus on navigating markets, selling more products and selling direct to consumer.”
Graduates entering the field need to be more “critical and strategic” in their approach to the industry and understand the consumer trends that are driving consumption, she said. “The wine industry is becoming more dynamic and less predictable.”
Experts with schools in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain attended the conference. Fritz said the hope is to arrange a similar event in two years.
Bruwer, from the University of Adelaide, told Wines & Vines that it is “paramount” for wine business schools to offer the best training for the new challenges of the industry. The wine business profession is definitely “at the same credibility level from an industry viewpoint as oenology and viticulture trained graduates. This is a huge challenge for wine business academics and can only be achieved t hrough collaboration.”
Huiqin Ma, an agriculture and biotechnology professor with China Agricultural University, said she saw the conference as a necessary first step to forge more exchange programs. “For the future I think an international wine business education network will be built. Students will have more chances to study in different wine production and consuming countries, more visiting scholars, Internet courses, and specifically we could launch wine business education degrees and certifications together.”