News

A Fruitful Partnership

North Carolina’s lush, fertile soil provides an ideal base for native and European grapes, and the state’s wine industry has seen exponential growth over the past decade, ranking NC as the 10th wine and grape producer in the nation with an economic impact of $1.7 billion statewide.

In 2013, Bryan School researchers partnered with the North Carolina Wine and Grape Growers Council to develop a five-year strategic plan for the Council that identified key areas of direction, including increased brand recognition, enhanced marketing efforts, focused tourism strategies, and support for regulations that equalize peer state advantages and manage costs.

“One of the hallmarks of the Wine Council initiative was to listen to the members and to hear what they were asking for so that we could get a full understanding of and respond to the industry’s needs,” explains Dr. Erick Byrd, associate professor in the Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Hospitality, and Tourism. “We visited 110 wineries, many of which are located on old tobacco farms in very rural and remote locations.”

Byrd oversees these initiatives with Executive in Residence Sam Troy. They even coined a phrase for the family-owned wineries. “We call them mini-conglomerates,” says Troy. “They are growing the grapes, making and selling the wine, and running a retail and wholesale operation—everything that a large corporation does, but with a handful of people. Now the industry has a plan to work from, and most actions in the plan have been taken, allowing them to compete nationwide with the larger wine states.”

Larry Cagle, a Wine Council board member and owner of WoodMill Winery (Vale, NC), agrees. “The strategic plan was the most comprehensive document I’ve ever seen for the North Carolina wine industry.”

Cagle’s 52-acre winery and farm has grown 1,000% since its establishment in 2007, forcing him to adapt to the challenges created by such rapid growth.

“The Bryan School is our secret weapon, and they have been a huge asset in providing us with solid, unbiased information that allows us to identify problems and make long-term, sound decisions.”

Enveloped by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, Raffaldini Winery (Ronda, NC) resembles the winemaking region of Tuscany. Owner Jay Raffaldini has sponsored several of the seventeen project initiatives conducted by the Bryan School over the past eight years, including a business plan for his winery that won the 2014 Small Business Institute’s Project of the Year Award.

“The collaboration used a multi-level, multi-faceted approach,” says Raffaldini, a member of the Bryan School Board of Directors and a contributor to the initial concepts for the projects. “The industry is still evolving and doesn’t know what it needs, and the fact that you have the flexibility and bandwidth to attack these on a multi-disciplined scale is quite positive.”

Taylor Pittman was one of three MBA students whose capstone class conducted the groundwork and presented the award-winning report for the Raffaldini plan. “I chose the project because it covered a wide-range of aspects of business. I liked the fact that it was a real project with feedback from a business panel. We had a one-on-one relationship with Jay, and he saw that we had ambition—and that what we didn’t know, he could teach us.”

To meet the offshoot demand created by wine tourism, Raffaldini is utilizing research provided by the report to incorporate Italian-style dining at the winery. “I think the key to a successful business is knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know,” he says, “and I didn’t know anything about the hospitality restaurant area. I was able to provide my investors and developers with an independently-researched, turn-key plan for the restaurant, and the students’ findings helped me fine-tune the model going forward.”

Raffaldini points to changes made by his and other wineries as a measure of the success of these projects. “People have made gradient changes to their business models as they see the industry success studies.”

“The wineries agree to work with the students because of the reputation we have gained with the council,” explains Byrd, “The council is open to our input, and they respond very positively. We support each other and it’s a good relationship.”