Spokane Journal of Business

Vintner programs connect science with business

Winemaking described as state’s ‘next big thing’ by business leaders in Pacific Northwest

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With sales and consumption at an all-time high, the wine industry is booming. According to the Washington State University Carson College of Business’ annual Business in the Northwest 2019 report, 23 % of Pacific Northwest business leaders and 28 % of employees think world-class wine production will be the “next big thing” for which the region is known.

Although Washington’s wine region is relatively young, it has become the second largest wine producer in the U.S. and is ranked among the world’s top wine regions.

What began as a few small businesses and farmers making wine as a side hobby has transformed into a much larger industry. Given the competitive landscape, it’s imperative that professionals enter the field with a holistic understanding of all aspects of the industry. WSU is one of the only universities to offer degrees in both Wine Business Management, and Viticulture and Enology. Most universities choose to focus on one or the other, so the combination of these offerings uniquely positions WSU to build a strong talent pipeline in the region, as well as provide a strong education option for students.

In today’s world, understanding the intricacies of varietals and growing seasons is just as important as possessing the business acumen to market and sell products competitively. With close to a 1,000 wineries in Washington alone, there is no shortage of opportunities for aspiring professionals.

Wine is far more than just growing grapes and hoping to produce a high-quality beverage. It’s an art passed down from generation to generation that is now supported by science and research to improve yields, lower environmental impact, and create a consistent quality. 

Now, more than ever, winemakers are called upon to be scientists, and many Washington producers have taken this challenge in stride by partnering with the WSU Viticulture and Enology program to fund research and educate the next generation of winemakers.

WSU’s V&E program combines hands-on study, renowned faculty, and industry connections to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to become industry leaders.

To provide a space for innovation, collaboration, and hands-on experience, the university established the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center in 2015. 

This research, teaching, and extension facility, in Richland, Washington, is among the most technologically advanced of its kind and includes research laboratories and classrooms, a research and teaching winery, a 2-acre vineyard, and greenhouses to train technical personnel.

Research coming out of the program not only improves the quality of wine in Washington, it addresses issues that are specific to the region, such as pest management, irrigation, and grapevine viruses. By fully understanding these issues and creating solutions, this research is setting the Washington wine industry up for success for generations to come.

Just making high-quality wine isn’t a guaranteed path to success in the wine industry; to succeed in the complex wine market, producers must have a keen eye for the business details, or at least know how to hire someone with these skills.

Running a successful winery requires a well-rounded business background and hospitality skills along with knowledge of viticulture.

As the wine industry becomes more and more competitive, finance, marketing, logistics, customer service, and management all are needed to run a successful company.

To equip students with skills in marketing, management, wine business, and more, the WSU Carson College of Business’ Wine Business Management program offers courses covering a wide variety of topics.

Students can choose from classes on product development to customer experience, to food and beverage strategies.

This program draws on the expertise of the university’s renowned hospitality business management program, which is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the country. 

Looking to the future, WSU is growing and continuing to evolve its program offerings to further address industry needs and offer programs that further develop the talent pipeline and solve problems for the regional wine industry.

In today’s industry, wine science and wine business are interwoven.With record growth and fierce competition within the market, mastering skills in the management and marketing aspect is equally as important as understanding the science behind it all. To stay relevant, professionals at every level should understand both sides of this expanding industry.


Robert Harrington is a professor of hospitality business management at WSU Carson College of Business. His research and teaching interests include food and drink pairing relationships, hospitality innovation, strategic management in the hospitality field, and culinary and wine tourism strategies.

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