PULLMAN, Wash. – The first wine business management graduating class at Washington State University is small but full of promise. All three of the May 7, 2011 graduates were offered jobs in the Washington wine industry, and two have accepted.
 
Begun in fall 2009 after years of planning, the program is “resource neutral,” said Dennis Reynolds, wine business management director in the School of Hospitality Business Management. It drew from classes already offered so there was no extra cost to the university, he said.
 
With the only school of hospitality business management to offer a wine business management major, WSU is receiving calls weekly from potential students about the program, Reynolds said. The new major also differentiates WSU because it is the only university in the country to offer a wine business major and viticulture and enology major.
 
The inspiration behind the program is “that no one is preparing leaders for the business side of our global wine industry,” he said. “It is becoming a major industry for the state of Washington, and no one is serving that need.”
 
The new major prepares students for managing functions such as marketing, promotion, distribution and, to a certain extent, production. Upon graduation, graduates will be equipped to manage wineries and work in retail and distribution.
The program is hoping to raise $250,000 for a program “storefront,” or location, to give it more presence at WSU, Reynolds said. The storefront will include a tasting station for students and a receptionist area for the wine business management program.
 
Two of the soon-to-be wine business management graduates, Carlye Rice, from Silverdale, and Dana Johnson, Moses Lake, transitioned from hospitality business management majors last year. Both are double majoring in hospitality business management and wine business management. The third graduate was unavailable for comment.
 
“I like taking viticulture and enology classes with a business background,” Rice said. “A lot of the wine industry doesn’t have a business background,” Johnson said. “Our expertise is going to be helpful.”
 
“Instead of making wine, we are selling wine,” she said.
 
Last summer, Johnson held an internship in Napa Valley, Calif., at Boyd Family Vineyard. She has two job offers in the Tri-Cities area.
 
Rice has accepted a position at Figgins Family Wine Estates in Walla Walla as brand manager.
 
This year, Rice worked with Reynolds in a wine business research project. They looked at data for U.S. wine sales and compared whether or not different state wine laws affected sales.
 
Rice presented her research and was one of two first place finishers, as well as one of the first business students to enter, at the WSU Spring 2011 Undergraduate Research Symposium.
 
In addition, both students have taken small business classes outside the hospitality business management program, such as small business policy and entrepreneurial marketing, because most of the Washington wine industry is small business, Rice said.
 
The degree will be helpful for the Washington state wine industry because there is a lot of opportunity for growth, she said.
 
The curriculum includes introduction to botany, vines and wines, beverage management, horticulture and crops, and business classes, said Johnson.
 
Students will have the opportunity to find jobs in restaurants, wine shops and distribution companies, she said. They could work as winery events planners and even work toward becoming sommeliers, or wine experts, she said.
 
“If you don’t like wine, it doesn’t mean you can’t acquire a taste,” Rice said.