Wine Marketing MBA
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
So, what do you cover in a Wine Marketing MBA? A little bit of everything, it turns out.
Before starting the program, back in October 2015, I had no idea what I was getting myself into; the INSEEC Wine Marketing & Management MBA website has a lot going on, but not much information about the course itself. In case anyone is interested in doing a similar program, I’ve compiled a list of the most memorable classes I took.
For some background, INSEEC is a private business school with campuses in several countries, including France, Switzerland, China, and the US (there is one in San Francisco!). The wine program is offered in Bordeaux, with the spirits program splitting its time between Bordeaux and London. The program itself consists of 6 months of classes, with an optional part-time internship, and 6 months of full-time internship. There is an option for students with more experience to come in for the second year only, but as I hadn't gone through any previous business schooling, I opted to attend both years.
The format was very different from my undergraduate degree, where I took four or five classes that met several times a week, with small class sizes (my smallest was only eight people!) and I selected my classes based on my interests and the credits I needed still to graduate. In contrast, at INSEEC, we were divided into two groups of about 50 each (100% English language, which turned out to be about 80% in English and 20% in French, and French language).
Nearly all our classes were together with the same group. We had a core set of classes the first year that were scheduled once a week (Business English, Excel, International Business/Management), a few that were recurring but not on a regular schedule (Negotiation, Wine Pricing, Purchasing, and Logistics), and quite a few that were one-off seminars or perhaps a series of two classes. The second year was entirely in English for all students and focused a great deal more on logistics and digital marketing, as those were the specialities of our program heads.
Did I, a native English speaker, have to take an English class? The answer is yes, and thankfully it became apparent very quickly that it was more of a public speaking course and a general business course than a language class. Our instructor divided us into groups, and we were given two overarching projects for the year: create a wine blog with weekly updates and research in depth an international company and give a 45 minute presentation on all aspects of it. My team blogged about innovation in wine technology and did our presentation on Nestle (did you know that they own everything?). I learned a surprising amount from a class I was originally outraged about taking.
This was one of the courses meant to be in English, but our instructor walked in the first day, explained in very rapid French that he would teach better if it wasn’t in English, and told everyone who didn’t speak any French at all that he would move them to the other class. The rest of us, even if our French was minimal, would stay and figure it out. I spent a lot of this class trying to get my French classmates to translate the formulas into English for me (“is rechercheV the same as Vlookup??”) but in the end, I found this to be one of the most valuable classes. I still don’t know the translation of several formulas, though.
International Business & Management
This was the class where I felt the most challenged and inspired, as strange as it sound. There were topics that were rote memorization (incoterms, which were weirdly fascinating), and topics that were about visionary ways of relating to other human beings. We learned about value systems and displays, and how to manage across them. It helped that our instructor (a former high-up manager at Philip Morris- I'm still not exactly clear on what his role was, but it sounds like he's led an exciting life, to put it mildly) was one of the best instructors that I have ever come across, and by far the most charismatic instructor we had at INSEEC.
It took a while to get into the flow of accounting class (and to get straight which way is credit and which way is debit), but I thought this class was useful even though most of us aren’t looking to go into accounting any time soon. A basic knowledge of business accounting will serve anyone well who is looking to eventually start their own company. Our instructor was a northern Englishman who seemed to drink a liter of espresso before every class, and who used to work for big companies helping them pay less in taxes.
Wine & Trademark
There isn’t a huge amount to say here. I have notes from the class, but I could have sworn that I didn’t manage to stay awake. The lecturer was very dry.
Wine Pricing, Purchasing, and Logistics
This was our first year and, quite frankly, the instructor was awful. He apparently could speak English, but preferred not to, was not very clear at explaining things, and gave examples by making up numbers without explaining what they were and where he got them. He was frustrated when no one understood him. Looking back on my notes, I can make a lot more sense of them now that I have more context.
This was the second year of the program; we had a one-day crash course in wine negotiation from our Business English teacher (previously a corporate lawyer and very tough), and then were divided into teams for two mock negotiations. We had a day to prepare our negotiations, and then a very stressful hour against another team in our class. I thoroughly enjoyed it more than I should have. Our first year included similar but much easier wine negotiation oral exam in which we made it our goal to squeeze in as many stereotypical phrases as possible (“so good to put a name to a face”, “how are the wife and kids?”, “let’s get down to brass tacks”).
This class was actually taught by someone who had taught at my undergraduate college! I had never taken any econ classes, and I was incredibly jetlagged when we had this lecture (I’d just gotten back from Christmas in the States with my family). I wouldn’t have understood a single thing and would have failed the final exam, except that one of my good friends majored in Econ and is an amazing tutor. I almost aced the final (thanks Vernon!).
Wine Markets: USA, China, UK, plus others
This was a series of classes that brought in wine professionals working in different countries to give us an overview of the markets. We’d typically cover the major players in terms of importers and retailers, as well as general market preferences. It was fairly general, such as “UK consumers prefer wines to be labeled by grape variety rather than country” and “German consumers are price-sensitive and buy mainly from discounters”, but proved very useful in gaining a broad understanding of the global market.
I’ll be honest, I’m incredibly sceptical of biodynamics. Sure, I’ll buy that biodynamics promotes healthy vineyard practices and that leads to good wine. I’ll even buy that biodynamics taps into something we don’t yet understand. But I can’t buy that astrology and the movements of the constellations have anything to do with wine. I’ve had this debate with friends and colleagues, and I find it fascinating every time. Anyways, my scepticism was really born during this class, because I didn’t really understand biodynamics before it. I spend most of the class thinking “there is no way he just said that with a straight face” and then “Why is everyone else nodding like they agree?”. To me, it was the the most bonkers lecture I’ve ever sat through, and I can’t say I’m sorry I did.
Wine Real Estate
This seemed to be one of the throwaway classes. Some of our one-off (or two-off, in this case) lectures seemed to be the administration chucking something onto the schedule to fill space on the calendar, and this was one of them. I wouldn’t say it was uninteresting, but it probably could have been a lot shorter. We talked about signs of a healthy vineyard, and some rules of thumb for vineyard pricing, and some common sense rules about how having an expensive cellar would drive up the price of a winery. I can’t say I remember a huge amount from the class, but I took notes that I ought to dig out someday.
Digital Marketing & E-Commerce (and M-Commerce!)
I find digital marketing and e-commerce compelling because some companies sell wine online like nobody’s business and some massively struggle. Some people are really happy to buy online through the anonymity of the web, and some customers would much rather speak with a real person, or handle a physical bottle. Yet, everyone is online consuming information about wine! Even if you don’t expect to sell a lot through your site itself, you still have to have a credible presence online, and you’d also probably be providing your customer with information they can’t get elsewhere (or isn’t as good elsewhere). I, for one, won’t buy wine from a retailer whose website is a flash animation site or difficult to navigate. Shallow as I am, I might not even buy from a retailer whose site is simply unattractive.
This isn’t all of the classes we had (there were so many one-off lectures), but it’s a pretty sound basis to showcase what sort of things you’ll learn in a Wine Marketing MBA. There was a lot of group work, which was sometimes fun and collaborative and sometimes insanely frustrating, but, in the end, pretty indicative of how to work in a team setting. Would I say that it was the best program ever? Probably not; I saw a lot of flaws in the administration during my time there. Would I do it again? Absolutely.