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Written by Jim Brumm
Like many other industries today, the wine industry is changing rapidly. New innovations and evolving technology can make it difficult to keep up. Many smaller wineries are started by entrepreneurs that love wine but know little about running a wine business.
Fortunately, there are courses available to experienced wine makers or budding wine entrepreneurs who need to learn the business side of the wine industry, or simply want to catch up with the latest trends in the wine business from grape growing to accounting, tasting room management to compliance and tax law.
Vesta (Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance) is, according to their website, “a program funded by the National Science Foundation is a partnership between the Missouri State University system, two-year schools across the nation, state agriculture agencies, vineyards and wineries with a 21st century vision for education in grape growing and wine making.”
Vesta offers classes in conjunction with 17 state schools. Through them you can choose from many fields to study such as marketing for small wineries, tasting room management, wine law, pest management, vineyard safety, chemistry for the wine maker, and more.
“A lot of our students are brand new to the wine industry,” said Michelle Norgren, Vesta’s national center director. “We also have a number of students that work in wineries or tasting rooms and are being sent by their employers to learn the latest about running a wine business.”
Vesta’s marketing and tasting room management courses are taught by Patty Held, a Missouri native and graduate of Fresno State who has worked in the wine industry since age five. Their wine law course is taught by attorney Mike Gau.
All of Vesta’s courses are taught online, so you or your employees can take courses without having to leave your home or office. Additionally, the VESTA program provides opportunities for students to participate in hands-on field experiences through partnerships developed with area vineyards and wineries, thus providing students with laboratory experience in their location.
Within Sonoma State University, (SSU) located in the heart of California’s wine country, is the Wine Business Institute, dedicated exclusively to the business aspects of the wine industry. Operating within the university’s school of business and economics, the Wine Business Institute is a fully accredited AACSB institution, offering “a specialized curriculum targeted at the business challenges of the wine industry.” The Wine Business Institute offers courses in wine marketing, wine finance and accounting, human resources management, wine business strategies, and wine production, operations and distribution.
SSU offers a wine intensive fully-accredited MBA program. They have carefully crafted the schedule of their program to accommodate wine professionals who are currently working in the industry, working around the late summer and autumn crush seasons.
The Wine Business Institute offers courses in wine entrepreneurship—- wine business start-up strategies, and certificate programs in wine business management and tasting room management (taught by Wine Industry Network’s own Elizabeth Slater).
“We have a lot of people who are already in the industry,” said Shalyn Eyer, Coordinator for executive and professional programs at SSU. “Sometimes it’s the children of the winery owners who are getting ready to take over for mom and dad. They might, for example, take a course on social media strategies. Also, compliance rules change often so we have repeat customers who want to stay on top of those issues.”
Most of SSU’s courses are taught on their campus in Sonoma County, California, but they have recently begun offering online courses as well.
“We’re offering online courses because we’ve had a lot of outreach globally from people who want to get into the wine industry but don’t have direct access to it,” said Eyer. “Our online courses take elements of our grad and undergrad courses and provide an overview. People are taking them from all over the world.”
Taking industry classes not only helps winery owners and employees keep up with changes in the industry, it can open them up to ideas they may have overlooked while running their business. It enables them to interact with others in the same business, hear the latest trends, and gain a stronger foothold on the business side of their enterprise.
As SSU’s website states, “We want you to do more than just harvest great grapes – our professional development seminars will nurture both your wine business and personal career.”