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Wine Professionals Advance Industry with Education

Submitted By: School of Business and Economics Marketing Team at Sonoma State University, January 29, 2014

Wine Professionals Advance Industry with Education

Rohnert Park, CA -
Anyone in wine business knows that the multi-faceted industry requires much more than just stomping grapes. In the North Bay alone, recent studies show wine business put $13 billion into the Napa County economy in 2011 and $13.4 billion into Sonoma County in 2012. From choosing the right vineyard and grapes all the way to hosting tourists and distributing internationally, working in wine business requires specialized knowledge, skills and insight to keep up with the industry’s rapid growth.

As a result, an increasing amount of wine professionals have sought MBAs in order to fine tune their business skills and careers, as well as to continue the industry’s advancement. Many have chosen Sonoma State University for its wine-focused MBA – the only one of its kind in the country.

Three years ago, Rachel Kau-Taylor was an in-store wine retailer at BevMo in Santa Rosa looking to jump-start her career. Now in the last semester of her Wine Business MBA, she is the national corporation’s first Wedding Beverage Planner – a position she practically created with the help of her MBA.

“I could have gone to school anywhere,” said Kau-Taylor. “But if you want to be in the wine business, the only place to go is Sonoma State.”

Sonoma State’s specialized wine MBA programs are exceptionally convenient, relevant and worthwhile for wine industry leaders, offering classes and seminars in the heart of wine country that directly relate to the industry. Students from all over Northern California have graduated from the program, taking their newfound knowledge and skills back with them.

Christian Ahlmann, vice president and vineyard manager of Six Sigma Ranch and Vineyard, traveled all the way from Lake County to Napa Valley to earn his Executive MBA, which was taught at the Napa Valley Vintners headquarters. He said his coursework was so pertinent to his career that he would sometimes send e-mails in the middle of class to apply what he was learning.

“Other schools do a great job with viticulture, but there’s a real need for a degree in wine business,” said Ahlmann, whose cohort graduated in August 2013. “To have a business program that is built around the necessities of a unique industry is such a powerful thing.”

Erin Martin, national sales manager for Laird Family Estate and another graduate of Ahlmann’s cohort, had worked in the industry for 10 years when she decided to learn more about the business side of wine.

“I didn’t have any formal business education, so as I advanced in my career I wanted to make sure I was up to par with people who did,” she said. “From day one, I started applying the skills we were learning in class to what I was doing in my job.”

Others have reflected this impact on their work – Kau-Taylor’s work with BevMo, for example, is continuously reaching new heights. After increasing large order event sales at BevMo by 160 percent, she is already developing an “Event Planning Specialist” training curriculum for BevMo stores nationwide.

“It’s gratifying to see the success of our alumni as they build their careers in the wine industry,” said Ray Johnson, director of the Wine Business Institute. Johnson recently sat on the panel for the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium, an annual conference that examined wine leaders’ evolving skills and their impact on the industry.

“I have a roster of wisdom I gained from the program that we’re going to be implementing at Six Sigma,” said Ahlmann. “I feel much more equipped to build and grow the company from what I’ve learned.”


For more information, please contact Shalyn Eyer at 664-2260,

About Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute and Degrees:
Sonoma State University offers two wine-focused MBAs: traditional and executive, differing in location, scheduling and course content. While the traditional MBA is part-time with night classes and can be completed in as little as two years, the Executive MBA is fast-paced, designed for working professionals with a substantial amount of experience in their industry and takes place over 17 months.

Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute is located in the heart of California wine country and was created through a public-private partnership between the University and the wine industry. Founded in 1995, it is the first program in the United States to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees focused exclusively on the business aspects of the wine industry. These include a B.S. with a concentration in wine business strategies (since 1998), an MBA with an emphasis in wine business (since 2008), and an executive MBA in wine business (since 2012). In addition to its academic programs, the Wine Business Institute offers an array of professional seminars and certificates for the industry on relevant topics like accounting and finance, and wine sales and marketing, including an online certificate in wine business management that has reached professionals in a dozen countries since its launch in 2012. Its faculty members are published experts, active researchers, and requested presenters on pressing industry topics locally and around the world. The Wine Business Institute operates within Sonoma State’s School of Business and Economics, a fully accredited AACSB institution. Learn more at