About Sonoma State Cellars
Sonoma State Cellars is a wine business learning laboratory started by students and faculty of Sonoma State's Wine Business MBA program. Within the setting of an MBA class, over the past three years, over a dozen wine business students have worked with the team at Kokomo Winery and Timber Crest Farms in Dry Creek Valley to learn how to market and sell the first two releases of Sonoma State Cellars. The idea for the brand was first considered by a group of four MBA students working with Dr. Armand Gilinsky, Jr., Professor of Business at Sonoma State University (R). Liza Goldstein, Kendal Georgeson, Abigail Smyth (R) and Leah McNally (R), who have since graduated and grown in their careers, conducted a feasibility study to assess the viability of the proposed brand during the summer of 2010.
During the following semester, a second group of MBA students worked with Dr. Gilinsky to develop a business plan for the new venture. Jacob Avery, Stephanie Gremban, Sean Headden, Kendall Hoxsey, Dylan Karahalios, Marin McElhany, Brian Perkins, Andrew Pimentel and Nick Rood outlined the start-up necessities and a path to sustainability. At the end of the semester, the students created a 40-page report and delivered their final presentation to members of the wine business faculty, administration and the wine industry. Attending the presentation that evening was Erik Miller, owner and winemaker at Kokomo Winery in Dry Creek Valley. Erik was impressed by the students' enthusiasm and immediately offered his support. After crush was over, he set aside a barrel of his 2010 Red Cuvée to provide the foundation for the program and the first release of the future Sonoma State Cellars.
Over the course of the following year, he coached the students on the start-up of a winery and the building of the brand. One of the student team members went on to work with Erik and his assistant winemaker Josh Bartels, while others contributed to the project whenever they could, squeezing in hours between study and work. In the fall of 2011, Ruth Waltenspiel, the proprietor of Timber Crest Farms, hosted a launch party where the students shared their story with a group of 60 friends and supporters.
In 2012, the School of Business and Economics created a graduate class (BUS 525W Wine Business Experience) taught by Stephen Sterling, adjunct professor and owner of Esterlina Vineyards in Anderson Valley and Everett Ridge in Sonoma County. This year’s class will learn with the 2nd release for Sonoma State Cellars, a 2011 Dry Creek Valley Cuvée from Kokomo Winery. In addition, this year’s students – Kim Finnie, Sergei Troxel, Matt Bartlett and Michael Sipiora, have worked on expanding the brand and marketing for the project, as well as exploring several customer relations projects, which may establish the framework for future classes and project releases.
Throughout the project, the MBA students have been guided by the leaders of the Wine Business Institute Alumni Council, whose members work in key positions throughout the North Coast. The alumni will provide continuity to the nascent program over successive semesters and generations of students.