Online MBA Residential in Napa Highlights Wine, Food, Ag

The power of unexpected connections and branching out of your comfort zone

Despite having to wait two years due to the pandemic for our first in-person UC Davis Online MBA weekend residential, it was all that I could have hoped.

The on-site program brought us together in Napa, the heart of wine country, to take a deep dive into the food and agriculture industry. As a manager in the retail grocery business for many years, I was excited to learn more about the product and production side of the industry.

For many of us, it was our first opportunity to meet Julie Morris, academic coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Industry Immersion at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM), who led the residential visit.

I joined about 60 fellow Online MBA students to hear from industry professionals who discussed the wine and vineyard business, alternative protein marketing, technology advancements in agriculture, and the future of agriculture.

Students gathered round during the Online MBA Residential in Napa Valley
A variety of industry experts hosted academic sessions on business, strategy and technology.

I’d like to share what I learned about each new innovation.

Mini Wine Industry Case Study

We couldn’t visit wine country without learning from a wine industry leader. Damien Caton, vice president of strategy and business development for Trinchero Family Estates, shared about his career path, responsibilities and challenges facing the wine industry.

Caton has a special affinity to UC Davis and the GSM. He is an 2009 alum of the Sacramento Part-Time MBA program. He offered insights into wine industry trends, including direct-to-consumer online subscription services. Then he provided a case study for us to work on.

Our next step: our teams researched businesses in the market and decided what benefits and costs were associated with each of the differing business models. We rounded out the experience with a wine tasting opportunity, offering us a variety of wines from the Trinchero portfolio. It was delicious!

Learning About Alternative Protein Marketing

Online MBA students present at the MBA residential in Napa Valley
Students worked together to build presentations and share their ideas about building large-scale production facilities for alternative protein manufacturers. 

With companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat making a splash in the meat industry, other companies are looking for viable alternatives to traditional proteins.

The Better Meat Co. out of Sacramento, California, is shaking things up to grow the alternative protein market. Doni Curkendall, executive vice president of operations for The Better Meat Co., educated us about protein alternatives.

As with the wine industry, alternative protein is also facing interesting challenges and our MBA teams were asked to research scalability and business considerations as the market and demand for alternatives continues to expand.

Technology Advancements in Agriculture

Later in the weekend, we examined food insecurity—a global problem that will be an escalating concern as population rapidly expands.

The agriculture industry faces the test of being able to reduce its carbon footprint while boosting production capabilities with diminishing resource requirements. Joe Schmidt, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Joyn Bio, shared exciting research and development projects that could help transform the future of large-scale farming by reducing water and soil requirements.

Online MBA residential dinner in Napa Valley
After their presentations, Online MBA students went out to dinner in Napa Valley.

Future of Ag Roundtable

In what would prove to be one of the highlights of the residential, we enjoyed a roundtable with three prominent women in the food and agriculture industry.

Renee Vassilos, an agricultural economist, discussed her work around the world and the importance of sharing ideas and knowledge to push the industry forward.

Kerryann Kocher, CEO of Vytelle, gave us advice to lean into discomfort and vulnerability. “Just because you are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you don’t belong there,” said Kocker, when discussing the challenges of being in a new position.

Lastly, Sarah Nolet, co-founder and general partner of Tenacious Ventures, discussed the agtech industry and how innovative technologies can revolutionize agriculture.

It was eye-opening and invigorating.

Taking Advantage of Opportunities

When students and professionals have these opportunities to come together, both the exchanging of knowledge and networking play a key role in the development of everyone involved. We were able to make connections with other students and business professionals while developing our knowledge of other industries.

I would sum the weekend up in two common themes. First, never underestimate the power of making unexpected connections. Second, do not be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone and try something new, whether in work or life.

I’ll leave you with these words of advice from Sarah Nolet: “Everyone feels like an imposter in something that is hard.”