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WSU students win wine business competition

Closeup of a glass of wine.
The 5 Pillars team designed a Syrah comprised of a blend of Syrah and Viognier hypothetically grown and created on Red Mountain in the Tri-Cities.

A team of Washington State University hospitality business management students captured the grand prize for the third time in five years at the Intercollegiate Wine Business Invitational. 

A team from the WSU/César Ritz Colleges Switzerland bachelor’s degree program tied with a team from Linfield University for second place. There were five schools and nine teams in the competition.

To prepare for the competition, students, regardless of their general wine knowledge, work in teams to create a business plan for a $25–40 fictitious wine. The plans include cost of goods, other financials, and a label including winery name, verbiage, graphics, and legal information. 

WSU Pullman students Adrian Au, Mark Brooks, Calie Judkins, Jenni Kowal, and Matie Mauseth collectively created the business plan for their wine, 5 Pillars Syrah. Bob Harrington, director of the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management, coached the team.

The 5 Pillars team designed a Syrah comprised of a blend of Syrah and Viognier hypothetically grown and created on Red Mountain in the Tri-Cities. They developed this wine as a tribute to old-world style blending, using new-world and American viticultural areas (AVA) techniques. The team’s name represents the five essential pillars that make up the Red Mountain AVA–soil, slope, precipitation, wind, and temperature.

Brooks, a senior in wine and beverage business management, said that real-world experience was one of the biggest take-aways for him from the competition. “The biggest lesson I learned is how much effort goes into producing, marketing, and selling wine. I think that most people don’t think about the individual costs or the ideas that go into a single bottle of wine. There is so much more to it than what’s inside the bottle. It takes a lot of time and effort to get a bottle of wine to consumers, which is something I appreciate much more because of this project.”

The exercise aligns with the WSU Carson College of Business’ Next Carson Coug curriculum emphasis on the value of undergraduates learning, leadership, and acting as an effective team member in all areas of business. Food and beverage management students are required to participate in the competition to get hands-on practice in a realistic environment.

Kowal, a senior majoring in viticulture and enology with minors in wine and beverage business management and horticulture said, “I think a big take-away for me is that we do have the capabilities and the creative energy to succeed in this industry — all five of us. I also think that working with a team to come up with something this awesome demonstrated how much of a group effort this industry requires, and if we all work together, we can make so many great things!”

Kowal and Brooks said the hardest part of the competition was determining the costs of goods sold. “We had to get quotes from different companies to figure out costs like individual label prices, bottle and cork pricing, and cost of aging/storage. We had to keep all of this in mind while still trying to have a good gross margin,” said Brooks.

The contest was developed by Tim Hanni, wine business industry leader, who teaches in the Carson College of Business wine business management certificate program. Originally, it was only open to a few universities, but several years ago during his tenure in the Carson College, Marlowe pitched Hanni the idea of opening it up to WSU and other universities with hospitality programs. 

Hanni said this competition introduces students to the realities of business including team dynamics and teamwork. It also teaches them the value of reaching out for and accepting advice and information, planning for non-participation, or having someone “quit” in the middle of a critical project, and most of all, the importance of attention to detail and following instructions.

“The first-place trophy is named in honor of our late wine and beverage business management faculty member Byron Marlowe, who was beloved by students across WSU for his gifted teaching and mentorship before he unexpectedly passed away in 2021,” said Harrington. “It’s especially meaningful that WSU won this year.” 

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