It can be argued that Sonoma County is most known for its wine. With Sonoma State University’s new Wine Business Institute, it may also be known for it’s wine education.
The Wine Business Institute is the only place in North America where students can earn a graduate degree in wine business education. Ray Johnson, recently named executive director of the program, has expressed appreciation to be a part of it.
“To be named executive director is an honor and a responsibility because we’re going for something really big,” said Johnson.
Johnson wants the program to become the global leader in wine business research and education. “It is important to underscore the business part, because that is our focus. We feel by concentrating on that, we add a lot of value to the wine industry.”
Johnson has always been a fan of the wine industry, as it’s what brought him to California. He started as a tour guide at Christian Brothers Winery, eventually working his way into wine sales before teaching.
Being located in wine country is something Johnson plans to take advantage of, as well as the connections available to students.
“We’re in a close knit community of connected people and the people who study with us get connected and so it makes the career progression and career entrance easier for them,” said Johnson.
One of the highlights of the program is the wine entrepreneurship program, open to anyone, which helps launch people who want to start a wine business. Students also have the opportunity to help build and promote Sonoma State’s own wine brand. The program also boasts plenty of successful alumni with careers in the wine industry, who help spread the word about Sonoma State.
“The people take the story of Sonoma State with them to all these other places where wine is consumed, where wine is enjoyed, where wine is sold,” said Johnson.
The new home for the program will be located in the former University Commons building, which is currently under renovation. Similar to many other buildings on campus, the new Wine Business Institute will be conservation friendly. Construction on the building has started and is on schedule, with demolition currently taking place. Johnson and other board members had input into the new building, which will feature three classrooms and space for events.
The building will not just be home to wine business students though. Johnson sees the building as a gathering place.
“The building is a home to share with the entire university,” he said.
The ceremonial groundbreaking, which took place on June 1, generated interest from Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and Representative Mike Thompson, as well as many people from the wine industry and Sonoma State students and alumni.
The building has also drawn interest from local wineries.
“One hundred percent of the people we talk with are very happy that this sort of facility is located right here in wine country,” said Johnson, “[Sakaki] heard about the work we’ve been doing in wine business and is very supportive.”
In preparation for his new role, Johnson has done his best to reconnect with alumni to bring them back for events and to connect them with current students.
Through the use of mixers, Johnson wants to give students the opportunity to make connections in the wine industry.
Students graduating from the Wine Business program certainly have an advantage when it comes to pursuing a career in the wine industry.
Connections can be made through the internship and mentorship programs, which Johnson has seen students do quite effectively.
“If you make a good impression, the door is open,” he added.