Taste of Foster: The Business of Wine

Taste of Foster panelists

From left to right: John Blair (Dunham Cellars), Angela Jacobs (WineGirl Wines), Bryan Maletis (Fat Cork), and Paul Zitarelli (Full Pull Wines)

Whether it’s tech, aerospace, or retail, Foster alums are often at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship. And in Washington’s wine industry, things are no different. With a focus on the business side of winemaking, the second annual Taste of Foster played host to a panel of four Foster alumni making waves in the burgeoning Pacific Northwest wine scene. Facilitated by Full Pull Wines owner/wine blogger Paul Zitarelli (MBA 2009), the panel included John Blair (MBA 2011), General Manager for Dunham Cellars, Angela Jacobs (MBA 2010), owner and winemaker for WineGirl Wines, and Bryan Maletis (EMBA 2010), owner of Fat Cork. Over the course of the evening, event attendees got to know a bit more about the panelists, their products, and their views on Washington’s growing wine industry. Below are a few highlights from the discussion.

Why do you think MBA’s aren’t well represented in the wine industry?
For John Blair, size is the issue. “A lot of wineries can’t afford to hire an MBA…I see that changing.” Bryan Maletis agreed with John, stating, “The big companies are getting bigger and there are more small startups. The big companies will be hiring MBAs.” Maletis also argued that more flexibility in state law will positively effect the number of MBAs in the wine business, especially when it comes to creating more direct-to-consumer experiences.

What are some misconceptions about the wine industry?
Be wary of over-romanticizing vineyard life says Angela Jacobs. “Living on a vineyard sounds fantastic,” she quipped, “but there’s frost in the winter and bugs in the summer. It’s amazing and rewarding but it’s not easy.” For John, it’s important to remember that a product is being sold. “It’s still a business,” he said, “a competitive business. I tell people when they go out to the grocery store that there isn’t a shelf more competitive that wine.”

Taste of Foster attendees

Advice for someone interested in getting involved in the wine industry?
Bryan advises those looking for a well-rounded sense of the wine business to set up informational interviews. “The most successful candidates ask to be connected with more people.” Drawing from his own experiences, Paul agreed, stating, “I definitely asked for more informational interviews.”

Looking toward the future, where do you see the Washington industry?
Pointing to the recent purchase of Columbia Winery by a California distributor and the success of Woodinville’s Chateau St. Michelle, John responded, “I think the sky’s the limit.” Angela agreed, stating, “Our market is not even close to saturation. It makes it possible for people like me to start a small winery.”

How do you maintain the balance between the heart and business of wine?
“I don’t think there is a balance,” said Jacobs semi-jokingly. “It’s an art, a science, and a business.”

See more photos of Taste of Foster: The Business of Wine on the Foster GOLD Facebook page. To be notified of upcoming alumni events, be sure to subscribe to the Foster Alumni event calendar.