bottling the bronco spirit

How do you create a purpose-driven brand that speaks to consumers and generates sales? That is the question that students in leadership and business strategy courses answered as they determined whether launching a cause-driven, micro-local wine in Michigan was feasible.

Looking at brands such as Newman’s Own, TOMS and others, students analyzed whether a similar business model could apply to the wine category, appeal to those connected to Western Michigan University, and provide a meaningful philanthropic impact.

The student teams looked at every aspect of introducing a new brand of wine to the marketplace, researching consumer profiles, the geographic footprint for distribution and what would differentiate this wine.

The point of differentiation was a question they worked on with the guidance of Drs. Derrick McIver and Doug Lepisto throughout the duration of the project. Students coined a new term, Bronconess, which captures the essence of how Broncos sustain their efforts when others might stop, and pursue ideas with courage and enthusiasm in the face of challenges.

The wine, which is hitting restaurants and stores beginning Oct. 5, in conjunction with WMU’s Homecoming and Family Weekend, now bears the name Bronconess, which represents not only the wine brand itself but also the broader concept of how Broncos put passion and purpose into their work.

“The wine is high-quality, and the profits are directed to scholarships for students in the leadership and business strategy program, but our work indicates that one of the reasons consumers will buy Bronconess wine is because the idea of Bronconess is a badge of identity for anyone who strongly affiliates with Western Michigan University,” says Lepisto.

The Bronconess wine launch is just one of several student-led projects that the leadership and business strategy courses have undertaken.

“The leadership and business strategy program strives to provide the best experiential learning for business students in the country,” says McIver. “Working with businesses in a practical way allows students to experience true accomplishment. The students’ hope is that the concept of Bronconess goes beyond the wine project and becomes a point of pride for all alumni, and current and future WMU students. It stands for something. The project was an amazing learning experience, and I am extremely proud of our students and community partners.”

The relevance of the project is something that some students initially did not expect.

“Originally, launching a wine brand out of the college didn’t seem real; it sounded gimmicky,” says senior Jason Olinger. “My thinking quickly changed from ‘this is just for a grade’ to ‘real lives will be impacted if this goes through.’ I couldn’t tell you how many people we called to get pricing on importing, shipping and handling, storing, and distributing. Ten other groups of students were doing the same thing, if not more. Maybe it’s the atmosphere that our professors created or the overall project dynamic, but I have never seen so many students come together and care about a project like this.”

The wine (and more!)

Bronconess is sourced from Tremonte Vineyard in Chile, which has been a company site visit for a two-week business study abroad course in Chile in the past. During those visits, Dr. Steve Newell, associate dean for graduate programs and operations, began a discussion with Silvio Di Gregorio, secretary-treasurer of Whitewater Investments S.A. (the corporation that owns Tremonte), about the possibility of collaborating on a project using student consultants.

“Initially, we were interested in potentially opening a winery in Michigan,” says Di Gregorio, “The students conducted research for us and created several case scenarios for new wineries. I was impressed with the energy of the students and the quality of their research and analysis. When it appeared that opening a new winery in Michigan did not have a high rate of success, we knew we had to find another project where the students could best utilize their skills. We then shifted to the idea of importing quality wines from Chile and marketing them in Michigan. From my perspective, this launch has already been more successful than I could have imagined. I believe the results will surprise us all.”

Bronconess wine is available in three varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Wine Blend and White Wine Blend. Tremonte’s unique location keeps it completely isolated from harmful contaminant agents, and its focus is on producing expressive wines with as little mechanical and human interference as possible.

What can you expect from these vintages?

  •  Bronconess Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: Deep red in color with a dark core. Fervent character with full black fruit flavors, sweet undertones and firm tannins. A high-quality reserve wine with a unique expression of its boutique, hillside origin.
  • Bronconess Red Wine Blend 2015: Deep ruby red color. Its aroma reminds us of spicy notes delivered by Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that are softened by the red fruits delivered by Malbec. It has a good structure, with sweet harmonic tannins and a balanced acidity that makes it easy to drink. It is a wine that easily accompanies meats and pasta.
  • Bronconess Reserve White Blend 2015: Fresh and crisp with good acidity. Aromas of lemon, lime and melon with flavors that jump right out of the glass. Ideal with shrimp cocktail, whitefish or grilled chicken.

The labels on the wine are adapted from sketches that artist Revere La Noue used in his planning for The Epic Broncos, a mural created for WMU in 2011. Liz Haskin, marketing specialist in the Haworth College of Business, created the labels with permission from La Noue.

Prints of La Noue’s sketches are available for purchase online, with proceeds going toward student scholarships. And, students and faculty plan to examine whether other Bronconess-branded offerings may be in store in the future as well.

The leadership and business strategy program

Leadership and business strategy is a new experiential major in the Haworth College of Business that guides students in becoming effective leaders and problem solvers. Students work on challenging business issues for companies in a competitive and collaborative process as they analyze the business problems and generate solutions. Bronconess is just one project that students have worked on in the last several months. More than 100 students are engaged in the consulting process, and findings are distilled by a top team, selected by fellow students and faculty, that presents to company leadership.

"It's education for mutual benefit,” says Lepisto. “With this major, we re-envisioned the model of higher education. We asked ourselves what the process of educating students would look like if the projects they worked on benefited businesses, our community, the students themselves and the University in significant ways.”

The result is a hands-on curriculum where students have the opportunity to progress through a sequence of experiences, taking them from team members to team leaders.

“My first thought when presented with the challenge of developing the wine brand was that this was what I had been looking for,” says senior Joe Newman. “A top reason I transferred to WMU was because of the reputation of the business school, and after the first day of the course when this project was introduced, I could tell that I had made the right decision. I wavered slightly throughout the semester as we discovered new information and were challenged to make this project a reality, but I always kept a positive outlook. After our teams partnered with Meijer, I knew we had something special. This project and course completely changed my approach to problem solving.”

Where to buy Bronconess wine

Senior Megan Miller took the lead on forging the relationship with the head buyer of wine and spirits at Meijer, and that connection opened the door to potential success. “I am incredibly proud and humbled to watch Bronconess come to life. Knowing I played a significant role in its success makes me feel that I have contributed to a legacy—leaving a product to the Haworth College of Business that will give back to students. That makes it all worth it for me.”

Bronconess wine is distributed by Imperial Beverage, which was a critical partner throughout the project. “The Bronconess wine project is all about experiential learning, and it has been a privilege for Imperial Beverage to have been part of this project from day one,” says Brice Dowling, wine category manager, Imperial Beverage. “I have been amazed by what the students have accomplished with each step of the process. They have been imaginative, resourceful and relentless. Their skills were particularly evident during the brand pitch competition, where I participated as a judge. Everyone involved with the Haworth College of Business and WMU should be proud of and excited about the leadership and business strategy program—it is truly a differentiator!”

One hundred percent of profits from the wine sales fund scholarships for leadership and business strategy students. Celebrate your Bronconess and the efforts of the students who created this compelling brand!

Bronconess wine will be available at the following locations:

  •  University Roadhouse, ​1332 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo
  •  WMU events and venues
  • Drake's Party Center, 4717 W. KL Ave., Kalamazoo
  • Harding’s Market, 5161 W. Main St., Kalamazoo
  • MEGA-BEV stores

          5570 Beckley Rd., Battle Creek

          6619 W. Main St., Kalamazoo

          106 Redfield Plaza, Marshall

          7921 Oakland Dr., Portage

          304 N. Broadway, Hastings

          3630 S. Cedar St., Lansing

  • Meijer stores

          6660 W. Main St., Kalamazoo

          5121 Westnedge Ave., Kalamazoo

          5800 Gull Rd., Kalamazoo

          8850 Shaver Rd., Portage

          5531 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids

          1997 E. Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

          315 Wilson Ave. SW, Standale

          5150 Coolidge Hwy., Royal Oak

          800 Brown Rd., Auburn Hills

  • Munchie Mart, 3626 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo
  • Sunny Mart, 2020 E. Cork St. #A, Kalamazoo

Check for updates on additional locations as they become available.