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Spears School students’ research project assists Van Duzer Vineyards in Oregon

Friday, August 14, 2015

Students visiting the Van Duzer Vineyard
Spears School students visit the Van Duzer Vineyard during their Pioneering Portland summer travel course.

A group of Spears School of Business students recently traveled to Oregon as part of a summer travel course, Pioneering Portland. Through the course, the students completed a project designed to assess the value to consumers’ associated with the sustainability initiatives at Van Duzer Vineyards, owned by Oklahoma State University alumni Carl Thoma and his wife, Marilynn.

Van Duzer Vineyards, located in Dallas, Oregon, is a LIVE certified winery and vineyard that is Salmon Safe. The LIVE element looks at how the grapes are grown and the wine is produced, while the Salmon Safe element manages chemicals that are used to prevent them entering the ecosystem and endangering salmon. Van Duzer posed this question to students, “Do customers value sustainability, specifically LIVE and Salmon Safe?”

The students did research before the trip began in order to better understand the industry and get background information about the winery. They gathered information about the market, conducted surveys, analyzed social media presence, and looked at competitors.

Students got the opportunity to visit other wineries and breweries in the area as well, including Widmer Brewery and Rogue Distillery in Portland, Saffron Fields Vineyard in Yamhill, Pelican Brewery in Pacific City and David Hill Winery in Forest Grove.

Kevin Christensen, president of the OSU Entrepreneurship Club and a student who participated in the course, said he learned a lot from this experience.

“One thing I’ve noticed, especially in the wine industry, is knowing your competitor and everything about their business is important,” Christensen said. “It’s also important to understand that it could be mutually beneficial to help each other out, like some of the wineries did, sharing supply chain methods and so forth.”

In a presentation to Van Duzer, the students advised them to consider USDA Organic Certification for at least a portion of the vineyard, enhance their relationship with intermediaries, increase their social media presence, and change the way they display their sustainability differentiator on the bottle.

Van Duzer, after hearing the presentations, indicated that they would implement some of the students’ suggestions in the future.

“I found the insights to be excellent,” said Thoma. “I hope the students felt like they learned something from this exercise. I know we did.”

“I took to heart the educating the public section and social media knowledge and will be implementing several of the talking points such as posting more often to gain and keep the attention of followers and interact more on a personal level,” said Bruce Sonnen, Van Duzer’s vineyard operations manager.

Aaron Hill, a professor in the Spears School’s Department of Management, and Matt Hull, a long-time instructor in the Department of Finance, taught the class and assisted with the trip.

“The brewery and winery industries allows students to see how firms can be quite successful in a variety of ways as Rogue, Pelican and Widmer are each quite different,” Hill said. “These industries, I believe, are also fun for the students. We can make business topics more accessible by putting them in industries that the students enjoy and are familiar with and then draw parallels to other businesses. The hands-on, applied type course like this offers students an alternative to classroom-based learning, as well, which I think gives them another avenue for learning.”

“We were thrilled that the Van Duzer executives valued the students’ opinions and indicated that they were going to implement some of their suggestions. I am not sure we could have asked for anything more and I hope we can continue to work with businesses in the future to allow students to practice in a real-life setting.”

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