Updated posted Jan. 28: On Jan. 27, the Anderson Wine Club team took first place in the New York regional trials for the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup and will be heading to France in June to compete in the finals.
It’s a familiar cliché and a dream many harbor: First, you achieve financial success in business and then you pursue your real passion as a second career. Traditionally, M.B.A. students might forge their careers in banking or technology, amass the requisite capital, and, on early retirement, finally open a winery.
But what used to be “nontraditional” industries for M.B.A.s are becoming mainstream as artisanal cheeses and craft beers gain mass appeal. And for the 330-member Anderson Wine Club, the wine industry holds not only great personal interest but also fruitful career opportunities.
Anderson student Michael Peck, the vice president of winery outreach for the club, explained that although AWC is an “interest” club, many of its members are on a serious professional trajectory in the wine business.
“The AWC serves as an excellent platform for us to reach out to potential employers and network by inviting them to campus to speak, just as other professional clubs do,” said Peck, who worked for a premium wine retailer as an undergraduate. Peck also worked the 2008 harvest at Silverado Vineyards in Napa and, after that, assisted marketing efforts for Don Sebastiani and Sons in Sonoma. The club’s faculty advisor is UCLA Anderson finance and real estate lecturer Paul Habibi, an avid wine collector.
Club events may entail field trips to wineries in the Santa Ynez and Napa valleys, as well as tastings at local enotecas. But learning about the business of wine is primary. Even in the club’s most social settings, said Peck, “Winemaker discussions naturally evolve into conversations about crucial marketing decisions, winery operations and logistics, and investments and business structuring.”
Industry leaders and renowned sommeliers conduct presentations in Anderson classrooms — much like lectures in the regular M.B.A. curriculum, but with the added bonus that flights of Médoc might line up alongside laptops.
A team of students from Anderson is in New York to compete for the first time at an international event, the prestigious Left Bank Bordeaux Cup, which attracts students from the world’s top graduate business, law and engineering schools. Peck and four other AWC core members will be competing today in regional trials based on their performance on multiple choice questionnaires, in presentations and blind tastings.
The Left Bank Bordeaux Cup is organized by the Commanderie du Bontemps, a trade organization dedicated to bringing together principal players in the Bordeaux wine trade and supporting Bordeaux wines.
“We are preparing for the competition by meeting weekly, where we’ve been splitting our time between blind-tasting Bordeaux wines using the Deductive Method and studying Bordeaux history and trivia,” Peck said. “The blind-tasting portion is the trickiest — often the subtleties between regions and vintages can be very slight. We likely will need to do very well on the trivia portion as we go into the tasting portion of the competition.”
Challengers from North America, Asia and Europe will then face the best wine clubs from French universities and business schools in a final that is held every year at Château Lafite-Rotschild in June.
As the specialty and artisanal foods business booms, so emerges a new proliferation of specialty M.B.A.s. The credential is becoming more common in the wine industry, with some schools offering degrees or certificates, like the wine executive certificate at UC Davis, where AWC member and Left Bank Bordeaux Cup competitor Meredith Roman completed the wine marketing program. E. and J. Gallo Winery devotes an entire section of its website to opportunities for M.B.A.s and actively recruits at Anderson.
This is good news for the wine club members for whom wine is a primary aspiration, not a second career. Pallavi Patil, one-time vice president of the club, is now vice president of product at Club W, a venture capital funded e-commerce wine startup, where Left Bank Bordeaux Cup team member Brooke Matthias worked during her summer internship.
Anderson students are also supporting each other. Margot Bloch and Rex White, also on the team, became acquainted through the AWC. When White was exploring launching a wine-on-tap retail outlet that would allow consumers to bottle their own wine, Bloch was able to connect him with some industry experts at Free Flow Wines to help determine the feasibility of his business. And when Roman expressed professional interest in the larger beverage industry, Bloch connected her with another Anderson alumnus working at Health-Ade Kombucha, where Roman has secured an academic internship.
“As a first-year at Anderson,” said Roman, “I felt rather isolated because my career interests were so different from those of my classmates. The AWC and this competition have provided me with a fantastic support system among peers pursuing similar paths.”
This is an adaptation of a story in the Anderson blog.