The Business of Wine

According to Silicon Valley Bank, the ultra-premium segment of the wine industry is projected to grow 12% in 2012. After some tough years, optimism about the business of wine is in the air once again. I feel it every Thursday when I go to Sonoma State University to teach my class in Wine Business Entrepreneurship. The twenty-three students come from a broad range of backgrounds and ages, but share one enduring trait – an abiding passion for wine.

They are in the class to learn how to build or grow a wine business. Believe it or not, Sonoma State is about the only university in the country that recognizes and caters to those of us who understand that, while the business of wine could not exist without passion, it also requires people who know how to balance budgets, market and sell wine and build business plans.

So, over 10 weeks our group is charting a deliberate course through the building blocks of a business plan. We have winemakers, vineyard owners, growers, enologists, accountants, CEO’s and yes, even a city manager in our midst!

Five weeks into the class we have learned how to define a mission, create a financial model, analyze the industry forces and identify available resources to bring to bear to the plan. While textbooks and readings have been helpful, the real learning has been from the talking and the listening to each other struggle with decisions, where two alternative paths seem equally viable.

We have also benefited enormously from the generous spirits of accomplished wine industry professionals like Charles and Diana Karren of Terra de Promissio, Honor Comfort from The Sonoma County Vintners Association, Clay Fritz from Fritz Cellars, Dan Aguilar from Silicon Valley Bank. Still to come, Ken Freeman from Freeman Winery, Tammy Boatright of Ving Direct and Marimar Torres!

Being in the business during the day and in the classroom at night is something I had thought I would enjoy during those long years of studying for my Ph.D.  I finally get to actually do it and it is exhilarating!

What I have learned during these last few weeks – the wine business is personal, the industry is small and the people in it are generous with their time and advice. The optimism for the business of wine is justified.

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