When thinking about university life, alcohol is certainly associated with the student experience. But at the Burgundy School of Business, wine and spirits are taken much more seriously than a lukewarm Chardonnay in the students’ union.
In 2013, the French business school, which is based in Dijon but has campuses in Lyons and Paris, decided to capitalise on its location in the Burgundy wine region and create its School of Wine and Spirits Business. This provided a specialised home for its MSc students in wine business or wine management and paved the way for the launch of its inaugural MBA in wine and spirits business in 2018.
“Our history goes back nearly 100 years, when the business school was created with support from wine producers in the region,” according to Stéphan Bourcieu, the dean of BSB. “Our goal is to become the leader in wine and spirit education, using our expertise and the legacy of the Burgundy region.”
The wine school forms part of BSB’s ambitions to become a more global institution and to increase its international student population. In 2018, the school unveiled a huge building in Dijon dedicated to teaching and research in wine and spirits management. This includes a “wine and spirits lab” for behavioural studies in wine, a dedicated tasting room and a large cellar for the university’s extensive wine collection.
“French business schools came to the international market later than some others, and the global market is driven through reputation, so it can be difficult. There are strong business schools in France and around the world, and in some areas we have no chance to compete,” Professor Bourcieu said. “That’s why we’re building on one or two specific areas.” And what better base to build on than the region’s reputation for a delicious Pinot Noir?
But the school wants only candidates of a premier cru. There are strict criteria for applicants to the wine school’s programmes, and, according to Professor Bourcieu, candidates must “demonstrate a passion” for wine.
“Wine is different from other products in business education. You have to be able to talk about it: you have to like and know about it,” he said. Students not only attend tasting sessions but also make trips to see wine made. “It’s not like soap; you have to have a special feeling about wine to do well.”
Professor Bourcieu said students must demonstrate in their applications their knowledge and interest in the sector – not just their skills – and these are assessed in interviews.
“It’s your passion, your experience – not just professional but personal – that makes a difference. Do you love the product? Have you visited a vineyard? They need to have a vision for why they are there; it is the most critical element,” he said.
For Professor Bourcieu, this passion ensures a high quality of discussion in the classroom. “If some people are there only because they are interested in luxury business rather than wine specifically, it reduces the quality of conversation, so we have to be careful,” he said.
This in some ways clashes with the drive to increase international enrolments, such as from China, where the demand for business education is growing. “We do limit the number of Chinese students because we need to be sure they are really interested,” Professor Bourcieu explained.
The study of wine business is a niche subject, but the global market is expanding and there is huge potential in places such as India, he added. “It’s not just about where it is created, but also the place of consumption…Consumer behaviour is very important.”
However, there is one market causing concern for Burgundy: the UK. “We haven’t seen a significant impact [from Brexit] on students, though we have had some European academics relocate from Britain to Burgundy,” Professor Bourcieu said. “The main worry is if there is a hard Brexit, one of the first sectors to be taxed will be the wine industry – it’s a symbol. There will be clear issues for our alumni, for our students. It will be a problem for the French economy and the opportunities for jobs.”
Professor Bourcieu is upbeat about the future, even looking into expanding in the world of digital education. First, he’ll have to figure out how that might work when the school’s teaching is so heavily reliant on physical, sensory elements such as visiting a place to get an appreciation of its terroir, to see the vines and to experience the winemaking process. “That’s our added value, it protects our product and programmes: you can copy a lecture but you can’t copy passion or a visit to the region,” he said.