A team of Washington State University Pullman hospitality business management students recently captured the title of best wine label at the Intercollegiate Wine Business Invitational, an annual online competition, for a third consecutive victory.

Two other teams from the WSU/César Ritz Colleges Switzerland bachelor’s degree program won the best business plan and best financials categories.

Washington-themed label sticks with judges

WSU Pullman team seniors Samantha Carone, Margaret Bader, Ryan Brady, Hayley Brown, Jaden Lohman, and Austen Peñuelas worked collectively to virtually create Rolling Hills, a riesling wine. Bob Harrington, director of the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management, coached them.

“We agreed to be a winery that represented the best Washington state had to offer,” said Bader. “To build a brand around that identity, we called ourselves ‘State 42 Winery.’”

Creative design and functionality were key to sweeping the best label category. Carone’s graphic design talents brought the label to life with input from Brown and Lohman, who envisioned a “farmhouse feel” with rolling hills and the shape of Washington state as artistic motifs. Adding the International Riesling Foundation tasting scale and winery description sold it to the judges for the win.

Closeup of Margaret Bader
WSU senior Margaret Bader was part of a team of hospitality business management students that captured the title of best wine label at the Intercollegiate Wine Business Invitational.

While the wine and eco-friendly winery concepts were fictitious, the educational impact of the endeavor was very real. In addition to navigating the challenges of meeting remotely, students had to work outside of the knowledge of their major to develop a comprehensive financial plan for selling wine in retail, online, and restaurants—admittedly the toughest part of the competition, team members said.

“It took a lot of research and industry resources to get a grip on all that went into the financials,” said Brady. “When I was working on the vineyard costing, I worked a lot with my in-laws, who own a vineyard, to come up with pricing of things like water rights, wind machines, and how much labor goes into each acre of land. It was a very challenging experience, but I learned a lot about building a business from the ground up.”

Stellar research efforts pay off for best financial plan title

César Ritz Colleges Switzerland team “Stellae Winery,” comprised of Elio Arjona, Bibiana Chan, Akshita Ghosh, and Claire Kim, earned the title for the best financial plan category despite having a disadvantage: none of them had everstudied American wine.

“I did a lot of reading about the wines and wine business in the United States because I had zero idea about it in the beginning of this course,” said Ghosh. “Finding the costs involved in every single thing like price per ton for grapes or the barrel cost was very challenging, as each source we looked into showed different values. Having never been to the states, it was kind of hard to predict if the cost was over the top or justified.”

Even so, the financials were not the most challenging part of the competition, according to the team members. Thinking about the most appealing story for wine lovers and choosing the theme of the winery took the most time, said Kim.

Elio Arjona was part of a team of César Ritz Colleges Switzerland students coached in part by WSU faculty that earned the title for the best financial plan category.

The team coined the name of the winery after the Latin word for stars and created a label with a classic, rustic design incorporating zodiac signs. “We didn’t just give the winery its name for marketing purposes, we wanted to give each wine a personality connecting to the constellation concept,” said Kim. The first wine to market had a personality of Scorpio. It was named Antares, which is the heart of the Scorpio constellation.”

“I learned so much more about the production, sale, and distribution of wine,” said Arjona. “The product is more than a glass of wine: wine crosses borders and unites thousands of people.”

Business plan experience cultivates appreciation for wine production worldwide

Team “Aequabiltias” from César Ritz Colleges Switzerland won the best business plan title for an environmentally-friendly syrah. The wine’s Latin name embodies the fair treatment of people and planet, equality, sustainability, and a promise of quality and pleasure. Organically farmed and free of sulfites and additives, the blend targets consumers who don’t want to choose between taste and their conscience, team members say.

Rumi Hu, Sunee Ho, Lena Merk, and Henri Pouadi drew on personal experience and the expertise of industry experts and faculty instructors to develop a deeper understanding of wine business.

“It was somewhat challenging to gain access to some of the necessary information to complete the business plan, considering we were not as familiar with the American wine industry,” said Merk, who led the development of the business plan. “Fortunately, we had lectures with Tim Hanni, Erik Pravica, and Byron Marlowe, who were valuable sources of information.”

Lena Merk was part of a team of César Ritz Colleges Switzerland students coached in part by WSU faculty that earned the title for the best financial plan category.

Hanni, a wine business industry leader and instructor in the Carson College wine business management professional certificate program, developed the intercollegiate wine competition. Pravica teaches wine and beverage business management and other courses at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland. Marlowe, Don Smith Distinguished Professor and director of the Wine and Beverage Business Management program at WSU Tri-Cities, coached both of the Switzerland teams.

Participating in the competition was an excellent way for students from Europe, Asia, and Africa to learn about wine and wine making in the United States, said Merk.

“It definitely opened our eyes to the differences between American wine and more traditional wine countries near Switzerland, such as Italy and France, that we have gotten to know. It gave us more of an appreciation for the extensive efforts of wineries worldwide.”

Longtime partnership combines the best of Swiss hospitality studies with American business ideals

The WSU hospitality program became global in 1986 when an academic relationship between SHBM and Cèsar Ritz Colleges Switzerland developed. In 2012, SHBM and the Swiss school established its first joint degree program offering both a WSU bachelor of arts in hospitality business management and a Cèsar Ritz Colleges bachelor of arts in international business in hotel and tourism management.

Faculty deliver WSU curriculum via hybrid and on-site courses that focus on senior-level hospitality and business management topics. César Ritz Colleges instructors bring a wealth of experience from many specialist areas of the tourism and hospitality sector, including five-star luxury hotel management, cruise ship operations, professional cuisine, human resources, marketing and environmental tourism.

Students benefit from this partnership by gaining global business perspectives from a traditional Swiss hospitality school in concert with a large American research university.