The Northwest wine industry has grown remarkably in the last few decades. Transforming from small startup businesses and a handful of farmers and backyard vintners making wine as a side business or hobby, to a thriving trade in a highly competitive market, the region quickly made its way onto the map for wine quality.
Narrowing in on Washington state, the industry has doubled in size just in the last decade, making it the second largest wine-producing region in the United States. But as the demand for Washington wines grows, so does the need for skilled industry professionals who can drive business success at scale.
Both locally and nationally, the significant industry-wide growth has fueled demand for professionals who not only have a technical understanding of wine science and production but also the business skills to market and sell their products competitively. With nearly a thousand wineries in Washington alone, according to the Washington State Wine Commission, there are career opportunities abound for entrepreneurs willing to chase the vine.
As one of the very few U.S. academic institutions that offers degrees in both Wine & Beverage Business Management and Viticulture and Enology (V&E) in one place, Washington State University (WSU) is uniquely positioned to help build a strong talent pipeline in the region. WSU maintains long-standing ties with the local industry as a source of talent, research and support.
Whereas previously one might have to go to California or Bordeaux to study V&E, WSU’s program is more in-tune with the technical needs of regional wine makers regarding vineyard production, climate impacts, soil health, irrigation management, fruit varietals and seasons, etc. Just near the WSU Tri-Cities campus, there are more than 870 wineries, 60,000 acres of wine grapes and 13 American viticulture areas. To provide an area hub for innovation, education and collaboration, WSU established the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center, one of the most technologically-advanced facilities of its kind. With more than $4 million in industry, state and federal funding each year, the V&E program works directly with the industry every day to put valuable research in the hands of growers, winemakers and managers.
On the business side, WSU’s Wine & Beverage Business Management program aims to develop students’ hospitality business leadership skills in the areas of marketing, strategic planning and entrepreneurship. With courses covering a broad range of topics—from product development, to systems distribution, to customer experience—students graduate with a well-rounded understanding of how to run a successful business. Whether they choose a career on the production side as a vineyard manager, in distribution as a sales manager, or in the retail setting as a restaurant or tasting room manager—professionals today must be familiar with the intersections of wine business and wine science.
Looking to the future, WSU is growing and evolving its program offerings to attract students from a variety of backgrounds. Students often major in one program and minor in the other, gaining a more holistic understanding of all aspects of the industry. Additionally, the university offers a suite of online certificate programs geared toward current industry professionals looking to continue their education or learn the other side of the industry. To continue the momentum, WSU is planning to add an M.S. in international wine business to meet the evolving needs of the wine industry workforce—in the vineyard, in the office and beyond.
At the end of the day, wine business and wine science cannot be separated. With record growth and competition in the market, developing skills in management and marketing is equally as important as having a solid foundation in grape and wine science. To remain relevant—and better yet, to get ahead—professionals at all levels and functions should understand both sides of this growing industry.
This story was originally published May 23, 2018 12:00 AM.