A Vintage Year

As the Ohio wine industry continues to expand, Kent State Ashtabula has partnered with a local winery and launched a wine label to help students gain real-world experience and meet the industry’s demand for skilled workers.

By Jan Senn

Last year was a good one for vineyards in the Grand River Valley of Northeast Ohio. Hot weather at the end of the growing season ripened the grapes to perfection, and the harvest was bountiful. 

Last year was also a good one for Kent State University at Ashtabula’s burgeoning viticulture (grape growing) and enology (winemaking) programs—Ohio’s only wine degree programs—which flourished under new program director Ed Trebets’ first full year of leadership. 

To expand its educational opportunities for students in the two-year, 60-hour wine programs, Kent State Ashtabula partnered with Laurello Vineyards, a small boutique winery in the Grand River Valley, to provide hands-on experience for students and launch a new Kent State Ashtabula wine label. The first two proprietary wines, a riesling and a cabernet blend, were released in December. 

Kent State is the first Ohio university to have labeled wines produced by an Ohio winery, with the help of students, and made from Ohio grapes—when Mother Nature cooperates. After two years of polar vortexes, the grapes for the cabernet blend had to be sourced from out of state. However, Ed Trebets says that next year’s red—a 50/50 mix of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc—will come from Grand River Valley grapes.

Students in the wine programs take classes online during the week, then meet together on campus two weekends out of the semester—usually at midterms and finals. For some of the classes, they’re also required to contact an approved vineyard or winery in their area and arrange to complete a practicum. 

As part of the new agreement with Laurello Vineyards (established in 2002 by Kim and Larry Laurello Jr., who maintain 10 acres of vineyards in Geneva), students who may not have access to other wineries can participate in the winemaking process from grapes to glass—and see the fruits of their labor for sale at Laurello’s. 

When we visit Laurello Vineyards in October, students in Ed Trebets’ Intro to Enology class have recently helped bring in the harvest—picking, destemming, crushing and pressing the grapes. The cellar is filled with vats of red grapes finishing fermentation and awaiting their new oak barrel homes.

Hannah Hollback, a freshman enology major, who is doing her practicum at Laurello’s, hands a small glass jar to instructor Ed Trebets. It contains a sample of the five gallons of wine she is making at home as an assigned project for his Intro to Enology class. She suspects there’s a problem; it has a bad smell. Mr. Trebets (a former high school chemistry teacher and an award-winning winemaker prior to becoming the program’s director in 2016) takes a whiff and diagnoses the problem. 

“It has a little bit of H2S [hydrogen sulfide]; it is starting to go into a rotten egg smell,” he says. “Add some copper—run it through copper tubing or add a small solution of copper sulfate—and it will clean right up. You can correct the flaw and by the end of the semester, you’ll have a good wine. Fortunately, you caught it early; some people don’t pick up on it, and when they go to bottle the wine, it’s too late. But you learn by the mistakes.”

“My goal is eventually to have a hands-on working winery for the students because that’s the only way you learn wine,” he adds. “That’s why we’ve partnered with Laurello’s, to start the process. It gives students a teaching winery without us having to invest in one right now.”  

Photo by Melissa OlsonIt’s a win-win for Laurello’s, too. “Ed is a wonderful consultant to all who approach him, which I do all the time,” says co-owner Kim Laurello, who runs the vineyard’s daily operations. “He makes exceptional wines.” 

Senior enology major Brad Indoe arrives from doing his practicum at another vineyard. An entrepreneur with more than 10 years of marketing/sales experience working for large corporations and running his own small food business, he decided to become a winemaker about a year ago. “The enology program at Kent State was exactly what I was looking for to help me branch into a new career,” he says.

Now, with mentoring from Mr. Trebets, he’s gaining winemaking experience at Laurello Vineyards, as well as at Paper Moon Vineyards, an established winery in Vermilion, Ohio, where he assists with growing, harvesting and production. 

That kind of real-world experience prepares the students to enter the winemaking industry and provides professional training for existing workers. Now the sixth largest wine-producing state in the country, Ohio produces more than a half-million cases of wine, brings in $1.3 billion to the state’s economy and provides more than 8,000 full-time jobs, according to a recently released 2016 Economic Impact report by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee. The state has become a tourism destination for wine drinkers, and the number of Ohio wineries grew from 175 in 2012 to 265 in 2016, an increase of 51 percent.

“Wineries are popping up everywhere,” says Lori Lee, senior special assistant for academic affairs at Kent State Ashtabula, who was instrumental in starting the wine program in 2011. “In order to staff those wineries, they need an educated workforce. So that’s what we’re doing, thanks to the National Science Foundation (NSF).” 

The NSF funds the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA), a national grape and wine education program. Its goal is to establish programs of study in viticulture, enology and wine business entrepreneurship through collaborations with educational institutions, government and industry. VESTA approached Kent State Ashtabula, who joined in as a sub-awardee on the grant. It took about a year and a half to get the curriculum process approved, and the state approved the degrees in July 2011.

“We don’t use any NSF funding for the actual production of the wine, because you don’t use federal funds for alcohol,” says Ms. Lee, who handles the contracts and grant paperwork for the program. The NSF grant focuses on technical education and is designed to help people retool their skills to prepare for technical jobs. 

“The VESTA grant supplements our program budget to keep curriculum up to date and provides opportunities for students to attend industry conferences across the country,” she says.

“It used to be if you wanted a degree in winemaking, you had to go to one of the coasts. The NSF grant allows students across the country to access a high-quality education in a way that’s convenient for them—through online classes and hybrid weekend programs like this one.”

Photo by Melissa Olson

Kim Laurello of Laurello Vineyards (center) and Susan Stocker, PhD, dean of Kent State University at Ashtabula, toast Ed Trebets, Kent State Ashtabula viticulture and enology program director, with one of the new Kent State Ashtabula wines. Students in the program assisted with production and bottling. 

The new partnership and wine label are great marketing tools for the wine programs, says Danielle Weiser-Cline, academic advisor at Kent State Ashtabula. In addition to admitting and mentoring students throughout their time at Kent State Ashtabula, she travels to wine festivals, conferences and wineries to promote the programs and establish relationships with industry partners. 

With so many opportunities to taste area wines, she considers herself a connoisseur of Ohio wines (see her top 10 Ohio wines to enjoy in winter and spring at the end of this article). “During Prohibition, wine growers in the area started growing concord grapes for sale to Welch’s, so when Prohibition ended [in 1933] they began producing wines using concord grapes,” she says. “That’s why Ohio has a reputation for sweet wines. Over the generations, it’s started to shift again, and the industry has moved toward producing drier wines—planting more vinifera and hybrid types and less labrusca or native grapes.”

Most of the viticulture students come to the program through A-Tech (Ashtabula County Technical and Career Center), the local technical high school. “For the enology program, you have to be 21 years or older to enroll, so we often get people who are on their second or third careers. It’s a nice range of experience, personalities and people. Many of our students already have paid employment in the industry, and they haven’t even graduated yet.” 

Students can earn an associate of applied science degree in viticulture or enology, and some earn degrees in both. Since the programs started in 2011, everyone who wanted a job in the industry after graduation has been able to obtain one.

“Helping my students get employed in the wine industry is rewarding,” says Ed Trebets. “I enjoy seeing them get hired and then coming back for consultations.”

"Helping my students get employed in the wine industry is rewarding." 
—Ed Trebets, viticulture and enology program director, Kent State Ashtabula 

Another way word is getting out about the wine programs is through the Ohio Winery Collection on the Digital Commons site of Kent State University Libraries. Amy Thomas, library director at Kent State Ashtabula, and her staff have digitized photos and other materials borrowed from Ohio winemakers. Available to the public, recent additions include winemaker interviews on industry history and student videos of the winemaking process. 

“This site shows how commercial winemaking began, where it is now and why there’s a great future for Ohio’s wine industry,” says Ms. Thomas. “It’s a way to connect with people who find these stories interesting and may want to pursue winemaking as a career.”

Photo by Melissa Olson

Bottles of wine made by Kent State Ashtabula students for a class project in Ed Trebets’ Intro to Enology class await evaluation. 

We return to Laurello Vineyards in early December to see the bottling of the new Kent State Ashtabula wines. Over the clanking of wine bottles making their way through the machinery, we check in with the Intro to Enology students who are there to help with the bottling and labeling—and to present their class projects, homemade wines, for sampling and review by class members and Ed Trebets. 

Brad Indoe spent the early morning helping filter and test the Kent State Ashtabula riesling being bottled today. “We ran some final tests using lab equipment to see how much SO2 [sulphur dioxide] was needed to help stabilize the wine prior to bottling,” he says. “Adding SO2 helps prevent any negative effects from exposure to oxygen and spoilage from microorganisms.” 

As the students help fill and label the wine bottles, they’re joined by Susan Stocker, PhD, dean and chief administrative officer for Kent State Ashtabula, here to witness the event. “It’s been a long road to get here, but we’re excited about the partnership with Laurello’s,” says Dean Stocker. “Having a partnership with a winery elevates the program, which we’re trying to build into one of the premiere programs in the country. And we’re lucky to have Ed, who knows where the industry is heading and what its needs are.” 

During a break in the action, we meet vineyard co-owner Larry Laurello Jr. “I love the idea that so many people are interested in the programs and that the school can offer them,” he says. “It’s great for the area. And whether the students end up here or in another part of the world that makes wine, they got their start here. So that’s cool.” 

He says this year’s growing season was helped by the hurricanes that traveled up the east coast and caused a front to stall over the area. “That gave us a high temperature of 95 degrees for a week and a half in September and it ripened everything to the best we’ve ever had.

“While the hurricanes were devastating for other places, the conditions were perfect here for producing wine. On my label for this year’s vinifera wines I’m going to have 2017 as a vintage date.” 

Photo by Melissa Olson

It’s lunch time, and in the front public area of the winery, visitors are sampling wines and ordering from Laurello’s menu of foods that pair with the wine selections. In a rear tasting room, after the bottling is completed, the Kent State Ashtabula students assemble to enjoy salads and pizzas prior to presenting their projects.

“I made a pinot grigio,” says Hannah Hollback when it’s time to present her wine. She explains her hydrogen sulfide [H2S] problem and says that after she tried to correct it by adding copper sulfate, she felt it took away the fruity flavor and was kind of bland. Uncorking the bottle, she pours her wine into glasses for the group to sample. 

“I think the acid is high,” says Ed Trebets. “If you put a little potassium bicarbonate in there, the fruit should just explode. Other than that, it’s great.”

One by one, the students present their wines for evaluation, and he shares tips on how to balance them. Members of the group chime in with comments, and at the end of each presentation, everyone applauds. 

In 15 weeks, the students have discovered that winemaking is both an art and a science—an exciting challenge that’s as ever changing as the weather.

Ten days later, it was Ed Trebets’ turn to talk about wine—to the Kent State Board of Trustees, who were dining at the president’s house prior to the meeting. 

“The [Kent State Ashtabula] wines were met with universal acclaim,” says Nate Ritchey, PhD, vice president for Kent State System Integration, who presented the wines and introduced Mr. Trebets to the trustees.

“After they tasted the wines, he described them in detail, as only an expert in enology could, and he answered any questions. It was impressive and made you want to drink wine from our area,” says Vice President Ritchey, who later bought two cases to give as gifts and serve to family and friends over the holidays. 

“Such good wine is a pleasure to give as a gift. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for our regional campus system.”

See www.kent.edu/ashtabula/wine for more information about the wine degrees and http://digitalcommons.kent.edu/wine for the history of Ohio wineries. Learn more about Laurello Vineyards at laurellovineyards.com.

About the Region  

The Grand River Valley, which follows the path of the Grand River in Lake, Ashtabula and Geauga counties, was formed thousands of years ago when glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and deposited a ridge of fertile, well-drained soil ideal for the cultivation of vineyards. 

It also benefits from a climate moderated by the thermal effects of Lake Erie to the north. This “cool climate viticulture” is similar to many European, Australian and even California growing regions.

Despite the area’s small size—just 22 miles long and 4 miles wide—it is the largest and fastest growing of Ohio’s four active federally recognized growing regions (American Viticultural Areas or AVAs), with several dozen vineyards and more than 25 wineries. 

SOURCE: Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association

Back to Winter 2018


Top 10 Ohio Wines To Drink This Winter

By Danielle Weiser-Cline

Wines for the winter months are full bodied and warm. Spicy notes add depth and life to flavors of stone fruits, jam, coffee and chocolate. These wines are perfect for when you curl up in front of the fireplace for long conversations—or in front of the television to savor along with your favorite binge-worthy show. They will warm your body and add spice to long winter evenings.

Specialty and Dessert Wines

Enjoy these wines after an evening meal or on their own. I like to pair them with well-buttered and salted popcorn for the perfect sweet and salty treat.

Valley Vineyards Select Bourbon Barrel Aged Mead
This honey mead wine is full bodied and luscious with hints of bourbon and spice. If I had to choose one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would be this. www.valleyvineyards.com

M Cellars Vin Doux
This noiret grape–based wine is styled after a ruby port with flavors of berry, chocolate and cinnamon. I enjoy sipping this wine when I need a bit of berry to brighten a dull day. www.mcellars.com

Meier’s Wine Cellars #44 Cream Sherry
A blend of niagara and muscat grapes, this has been fortified and aged in barrel three years—a rich and flavorful sipping wine. I particularly enjoy this wine when the weather outside is frightful. www.meierswinecellars.com

Red Wines

These red wines are best enjoyed in the evening, either over dinner or as you wind down after a long day. Try them with bitter chocolate to bring out their fruity characteristics.

Meranda-Nixon Winery Estate Cabernet Franc
Full bodied with a peppery oak finish, each vintage is unique and worth a taste. I can taste hints of the tobacco once grown on the land that is now the Meranda family vineyards. The history and terroir that come through in this wine are spectacular. www.meranda-nixonwinery.com  

Debonne Vineyards, Ferrante Winery, Grand River Cellars, Laurello Vineyards, and St. Joseph Vineyards Cask Wines
Continual red blends are unique to each winery. Each year a percentage of the wine is bottled and sold to make room for the next year’s harvest. The date on the bottle represents the year it began (“10″) and the year it was bottled (“18″). This year’s bottlings, then, would read “1018.” Each winery uses their own 500-gallon oak cask-style barrels to age vinifera grapes from their farm. The resulting wines are beautiful examples of each winery and represent their unique style of red winemaking. www.debonne.com; www.ferrantewinery.com; www.grandrivercellars.com; www.laurellovineyards.com; www.saintjosephvineyard.com  

Gervasi Vineyard Truscano
This sangiovese blend is fruity and full flavored. I enjoy it with a slow-cooked meal, and it pairs especially well with beef. www.gervasivineyard.com

Burnet Ridge Three Kings
This cabernet sauvignon has earthy, coffee-like nuances with a lingering finish. I enjoy this wine most with meat and potatoes. www.burnetridge.com

White Wines  

These wines can be enjoyed at any time of day. They are wonderful with light lunches. Try them when you need a bit of brightness on a gloomy afternoon. 

Markko Vineyard Chardonnay 
An estate chardonnay that is full bodied and buttery with oak flavors, this stands up to the best in the world. Because of the uniqueness of each particular vintage year, every chardonnay lover will have their favorite. I have a small reserve of the 2008 vintage that I only bring out on special occasions to sip by the glass. I enjoy the other vintages with chicken or pasta. https://markko.com  

Kosicek Vineyards Dam White
This white blend has flavors of pineapple and citrus with a sweet finish. I love it with salty snacks and a good show on television. www.kosicekvineyards.com 

Maize Valley Reserve Blanc
This traminette and la crescent blend has flavors of citrus with a soft honey sweetness. I enjoy it with cheese, crackers, and charcuterie. The citrus and honey pair well with the salt and fat of good cheese and well-aged salamis. www.maizevalley.com

Top 10 Ohio Wines to Drink This Spring

By Danielle Weiser-Cline

Wines for the spring months are a bit lighter and brighter than those enjoyed in the winter. They bring to mind the berries that will emerge in a few months’ time, as we look forward to warmer weather and new crops. These wines are wonderful for enjoying on your back deck on warmer days or while gazing out your window during April showers.

Specialty and Dessert Wines

These fruit-forward offerings are perfect for any time of day. I like them with cheese and crackers.

Brandeberry Winery Blackberry
This wine is a sweet, 100 percent blackberry fruit wine. I love the jammy flavor of this wine, especially when it is served ice cold. http://www.brandeberrywinery.com

Doughty Glen Winery Strawberry
A 100 percent strawberry fruit wine, it tastes like biting into a fresh, ripe strawberry directly from the vine. It’s my absolute favorite fruit wine. Enjoy it with creamy cheese and crusty bread. https://www.doughtyglenwinery.com/

Rosé Wines

Rosé, or blush, wines are produced by fermenting grapes on the skin until the perfect color is achieved, then finishing the fermentation process off the skins. Because of this, rosé wines are imbued with a bit of the tannins that make red wine so bold, while maintaining the more delicate flavors of the grape. These wines are best enjoyed alone or with a light meal.

Terra Cotta Vineyards Chambourcin Rosé
This is a dry rosé made from the chambourcin grape—a French-American hybrid grape variety. I love the berry overtones provided by the chambourcin grape and the lightness of the wine. http://www.terracottavineyards.com

Valley Vineyards Pink Reflections
This wine is a blend of cayuga, aurora and reliance grapes. Wonderful aromas of nectarine and citrus and a luscious fruit-forward intensity balance with a soft, clean finish. I enjoy this wine with pizza. https://www.valleyvineyards.com

Ferrante Pink Catawba
This wine is a medium sweet, spicy rosé wine made from catawba grapes, Ohio’s first grown and most popular grape. I like this wine ice cold on warm days when the sun is hot—and the scents of fresh-bloomed flowers drift across my deck. http://www.ferrantewinery.com

Red Wines

Red wines suitable for spring retain the spiciness typically enjoyed in winter, but are lighter bodied and retain more fresh fruit flavor. Enjoy these wines with your favorite foods.

Sycamore Lake Wine Company Marquette
This is an oaked dry red wine with a touch of smokiness and aromas of black pepper and berry. I enjoy this wine with a hearty meal. http://sycamorelakewineco.wixsite.com/winery/

Laurentia Pinot Noir
This wine has high-toned cherry, strawberry and raspberry aromas complimented by an underscore of sweet oak, violet and spice. It has polished tannins and great balance with a long, pleasing finish. I like to savor this wine with bread and cheese in order to enjoy its complexity and fruitiness. http://laurentiawinery.com

M Cellars Estate Meritage Reserve
This is a bold, dry red wine styled after the Bordeaux region in France. It features flavors and aromas of dark cherry, black currant, spices, leather and plum. Because of the depth of this wine, I like to enjoy it on colder spring days when the rain is pouring, and I need a bit of warmth. It pairs well with steak. http://www.mcellars.com

White Wines

Good white wines for spring are a bit more citrusy than those typically enjoyed in the winter. These are wonderful with salty popcorn or a light meal.

Markko Vineyard Johannisberg Riesling
Each vintage of this estate riesling is unique and worth a taste. No particular vintage stands out to me, but every one of them is excellent, with their own personality. I love these on sunny days, as they make me think of warmer weather. https://markko.com/

Maize Valley Reserve Blanc
Made from traminette and la crescent grapes, this wine has an elegant, floral aroma followed by a slight spiciness. It has flavors of citrus and tangerine with a soft honey sweetness. I like this wine with chicken, but it’s also a wonderful wine to enjoy on its own. http://www.maizevalley.com

Back to Winter 2018

POSTED: Friday, February 2, 2018 04:58 PM
UPDATED: Friday, May 24, 2024 07:33 PM
Jan Senn