The name is so synonymous with relaxation and celebration that it's easy to forget that livelihoods depend on champagne. And like many other businesses, it faces competition from the east.
"I am particularly concerned about China," says Francois Bonvalet, dean of Reims Management School, at the heart of the champagne district. "At the moment, the Chinese have 100,000 hectares of vineyards. Although we have managed to protect the brand name of champagne through international agreements, these don't exist in every jurisdiction.
"In 10-15 years time there is every possibility that China could be producing a perfectly acceptable sparkling wine, labelled as champagne, and selling for five euros a bottle."
This threat puts champagne promoter Patrick Ligeron's job in a new light. His employer, Champagne Gosset, is a family business producing more than a million bottles a year and employing 25 people. But it is keen to give its export manager the same strategic outlook as his peers in other multinational companies.
Hence Patrick Ligeron's presence on the Reims school's executive MBA programe. "As champagne houses, we are investing elsewhere - in California and Australia - making sure we have an international presence in the wine industry. We need management knowledge to do that, and an international perspective on business," he says.
Reims, part of the prestigious grandes ecoles network, has always attracted a steady stream of champagne industry executives who, like Ligeron, want to hone their management skills. But Bonvalet is going a step further. He has appointed a professor of champagne, and is planning a "champagne track" suite of electives for MBA students. Summer schools and a Masters programme are also on the agenda, as part of a strategy to make the most of the region's connection with champagne.
However, Bonvalet is reluctant to label this idea a "specialist MBA". He says: "I'm not comfortable with that term at all. I prefer to say this is a sector MBA. People who come on this course will still receive a general management education, but the electiveswilladdressthechallenges in their sector."
The fact that the champagne industry is so small and regionally based may be one reason why the dean is unwilling to construct too narrow an MBA programme. But other schools are also re-evaluating the way they market their specialist courses.
Cass Business School in London has just launched an MBA for the film industry and is negotiating with the Football Association about a similar venture for the beautiful game. But its associate dean, Chris Brady, says there is limited benefit in herding students into niche groups. "Ten years ago what I would call 'func-tional' MBAs, designed for one area of business such as marketing, were fashionable, but that idea declined and they are no longer very popular."
Instead, he argues, business schools are more inclined to go for the same kind of strategy as Reims Management School, attracting students from one sector via a series of electives, while offering them exposure to managers from other industries. …