WMU rolls out student-created wine as fundraiser


The Bronconess wines feature labels based on sketches artist Revere La Noue used for the campus mural he created in 2011. Courtesy WMU

In its latest philanthropic venture, Western Michigan University recently began selling a new wine brand designed by students.

The wine brand, Bronconess, recently became available in multiple restaurants and stores throughout the state.

The brand was researched and developed by students in WMU’s leadership and business strategy program, overseen by Derrick McIver and Doug Lepisto.

Leadership and business strategy is a new experiential major in the Haworth College of Business meant to guide students in becoming effective leaders and problem solvers.

The students coined the brand name, defining it as the way WMU Broncos “sustain their efforts when others might stop and pursue ideas with courage and enthusiasm.”

Modeled after cause-driven brands like Newman's Own and TOMS, Bronconess profits will fund scholarships for leadership and business strategy students at WMU.

The goal of the project was to determine whether a cause-driven, micro-local wine in Michigan was feasible as a way to speak to consumers and generate sales.

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

“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," Lepisto said.

Originally skeptical about what seemed to be a “gimmicky” project, WMU senior Jason Olinger said he realized the impact it could have if successful, and he and other students seemed to develop a passion for it.

I couldn't tell you how many people we called to get pricing on importing, shipping and handling, storing and distributing,” Olinger said. “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 is sourced from Tremonte Vineyard in Chile, which has been a company site visit for a two-week business study abroad course in the past. During those visits, Steve Newell, associate dean for graduate programs and operations, began a discussion with Silvio Di Gregorio, secretary-treasurer of Tremonte's parent corporation Whitewater Investments S.A., about the possibility of collaborating on a project using student consultants.

Di Gregorio said the company initially was interested in potentially opening a winery in Michigan.

The students conducted research for the company and created several case scenarios for new wineries. When it appeared that opening a new winery in Michigan likely would not be successful, Di Gregorio said the company looked for another project that could help the students best utilize their skills, and that’s when the company shifted to the idea of importing wine from Chile and marketing it in Michigan.

“From my perspective, this launch has already been more successful than I could have imagined,” Di Gregorio said. “I believe the results will surprise us all."

Tremonte's 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.

Bronconess wine is available in three varieties:

  • 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: “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 for the Haworth College of Business, created the labels with permission from La Noue.

The wine is available to purchase at Meijer locations in Grand Rapids at 5531 28th St. SE and 1997 East Beltline Ave., in Standale at 315 Wilson Ave. NW and multiple other stores and locations in Kalamazoo and on the east side of the state. 

A full list of locations and further information is available at bronconess.com.

Prints of La Noue's sketches also are available for purchase at the website, with proceeds going toward student scholarships.

Students and faculty also plan to examine whether other Bronconess-branded offerings may be in store in the future, as well.

McIver said the students' hope is that the concept of Bronconess goes beyond the wine project and becomes a point of pride for alumni and current and future WMU students.

In the leadership and business strategy program, students work to analyze business problems and generate solutions for companies. 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 team selected by fellow students and faculty that presents to company leadership.

"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,” said senior Joe Newman. “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."

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