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New Harvard MBA Course: Bordeaux 1999

Don’t expect the Harvard Business Review to start posting wine tasting notes anytime soon or printing essays debating the pros and cons of biodynamics, but the famous business school is developing some serious in-house wine expertise.

For the past decade, the Commanderie du Bontemps – the Left Bank organization that represents the classified châteaux of the Medoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac – has had a student wine competition called “20 sur Vin.” Each team has three members who combine their wits on multiple-choice questions, both essential and esoteric, and their palates on discerning the divine provenance of selected Bordeaux wines.

This year the competition was opened for the first time to American business and law schools students. Harvard Business School won it – by a nose.

“We tried to have fun with it, to not over-think it,” says Nicole Pereira, who, along with Katy Andersen and Christian Huot, represented the winning team. A group from the Chinese University in Hong Kong came in second. The other American finalist team, Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, tied for third in the competition. Other schools from England, Holland and France were not quite up to snuff – or up to sniff, that is.

To get to the finals – hosted by Baron Eric de Rothschild at Château Lafite Rothschild – the Harvard team (whose members all graduated last term) had to compete against five American law and business schools. (Culinary institutes – not noted for the potential buying power of their graduates – were not invited.)

Pereira had a glass up because her mother was in the wine business for 25 years, and the two of them worked in a family wine distribution concern in Rhode Island after the younger Pereira graduated from Brown. At HBS, all three team mates served as officers in the school’s Wine & Cuisine Society, which has 450 members and a waiting list.

“We participated in some tasting events with the Commanderie’s Boston chapter,” says Pereira, who is now working in NYC on the Dom Perignon account. She also says the group spent more time in training with the sipping and spitting part than they did on hitting the books.

The rewards of winning? A double magnum of 1999 Château Lafite, return round-trip tickets to Bordeaux and several days of special visits to the host estates.

According to Pereira, the double mag is resting in a friend’s wine cellar in England, waiting to arrive at its proper drinking age while the three winners decide how and when to split it.

If you think you have the right stuff and shouldn’t have been left out of the competition, here is the written part of this year’s exam, copied verbatim. Sorry, but you’re not eligible for the lab test.

Question n° 1:
In which year did the first event of “20 sur Vin”, the wine tasting competition organised by the Commanderie du Bontemps, take place?
a) 2000
b) 2001
c) 2002

Question n° 2:
Who was George C. Yount?
a) The first pioneer who planted vines in the Napa Valley
b) The first owner of Château Haut-Brion
c) The first importer of wine to the United States

Question n° 3:
How many Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac châteaux are currently represented within the Commanderie du Bontemps?
a) 180
b) 200
c) 220

Question n° 4:
According to figures published by the International Wine and Spirit Research in 2010, between 2005 and 2009 wine sales in China and Hong Kong rose from:
a) 34.9 million to 83.9 million cases
b) 46.9 million to 95.9 million cases
c) 96.9 million to 141.9 million cases

Question n° 5:
What are flavonols?
a) Aphids which destroy vine blossom
b) A category of products for treating vine diseases
c) Vegetal pigments which give white wine its yellow colour

Question n° 6:
What is the total area of Médoc vineyard?
a) 15 200 hectares
b) 16 500 hectares
c) 17 700 hectares

Question n° 7:
The United States of America are the world’s fourth wine producer, behind France, Italy and....
a) Australia
b) Argentina
c) Spain

Question n° 8:
Who said: “I am an uncomplicated wine lover; I am easily satisfied with the very best.”...?
a) Sir Winston Churchill
b) Theo van Baaren
c) Li Meiyu

Question n° 9:
Among these three classified growths of Sauternes, only one is not a first growth.
Which one?
a) Romer du Hayot
b) Sigalas-Rabaud
c) Rabaud-Promis

Question n° 10:
The history of Château Lafite recounts that the domain comprised 74 hectares of vines when Baron James de Rothschild bought it on 8th August 1868. How many hectares does this estate comprise today?
a) 96 hectares
b) 114 hectares
c) 132 hectares

Answers – 1. (c). 2 (a). 3 (b). 4 (b). 5 (c). 6 (b). 7 (c). 8 (a). 9 (a). 10 (b).

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