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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sonoma State University and the Wine Business

  Most West Coast wine lovers know about the University of California in Davis as the center of American wine growing and wine making knowledge. Fresno State University offers similar degrees, but isn't nearly as well known. These schools and others offer a few wine business classes focusing on running a winery, not just making wine.

  Over the last few years Sonoma State University has put together a wine business program. This initially grew out of their general business bachelors and masters program to focus on winery-specific needs.  SSU offers BS and MBA degrees in wine business management plus certificate programs aimed at helping those already managing wineries or those looking to start up a new one.

  Their Wine Business Institute has a Board of Directors with local wine executives from Constellation Brands, Duckhorn, Gallo, Korbel, Wells Fargo Bank, etc. That's a lot of brain power on what it takes to run a winery.
Ray Johnson
Head of SSU's Wine Business Institute
Image from

  When people think of a winery they might picture a mom-and-pop operation with a winemaker and maybe someone in the cellar. The truth is more complex as with any business you need financial experts, labor law knowledge, etc. You have to know about compliance as there are lots of alcohol-related laws ranging from what can go on your label to where you can sell wine. There are laws around operating a tasting room. There are safety requirements in the cellar and so on. Larger wineries may have a general manager, a finance manager, a head winemaker, assistant winemakers, IT, a wine club manager, a tasting room manager, plus all their staff. It's run like any other business and some do it better than others because they've been properly trained.

  After all, you can't just make wine, you have to make a profit! I hope that doesn't burst anybody's bubble on the romance of the wine industry, but it is a business.

  Other schools, such as Washington State University, have also seen the need for business knowledge in the wine industry and are offering similar programs. Sonoma State University was the first in the U.S. and seems to have the most developed program.