Student Perspectives

We are proud to have a diverse group of students who are widely involved in the Ohio Grape and Wine Industry. We also try to send our students to as many meetings around the state and the Eastern US as possible. This webpage is a place for them to share their experiences and perspectives.

Read and enjoy!

2015 KSUA/VESTA Student Scholarship Recipients’ Experiences

Summaries are slowly starting to come in from students who have attended the 2015 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference in Dublin, OH and/or the Eastern Winery Exposition in Syracuse, NY. Our students have so many excellent networking and educational opportunities available to them, and we are pleased to be able to help them attend these critical industry meetings.


2015 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference Preview Day

By Ashley Rosa, KSUA Enology Student

I was fortunate to receive the scholarship to the Ohio Grape and Wine conference on February 16th and 17th held in Dublin, Ohio. I attended the Wine Conference Preview Day on Sunday, February 15th as well. I found that the Preview Day was most beneficial to me, being a student and interested in opening a winery someday. It was great to see all of the Ohio winery owners and winemakers working together to give advice to others hoping to enter the industry. The event was organized and led by Donnie Winchell, Executive Director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association. She brought together the different resources that will be needed when starting to open a new winery and/or vineyard, from the building to laws and marketing.

First up was building and regulations. They brought in Kristofer Sperry of Myrddin Winery; he is an architect by training and winemaker. He went over plans for building a new winery and important aspects to consider. Next they introduced a panel of winery owners from Ohio, where the attendees were able to ask questions. The panel consisted of Jim Arbaczewski of Ferrante, Walter Borda and Tricia Chalfant of Caesar Creek, Donna Roberts of Terra Cotta, Joe Schuchter of Valley Vineyards, Bob Tebeau of Chateau Tebeau, and Ed Trebest of Debonne Vineyards. Each one talked about issues they went through when planning to open and some talked about what they might have done differently. It was great to hear firsthand what a new owner could run into.

Next, the seminar changed focus to the business aspect. David Drake from the Farm Service Agency talked about the Farm Loan Program and assistance that is available to wineries that also have vineyards. Chad Fondriest from Huntington Bank also talked about loans available for small business owners. Other topics they touched on were considering lawyers and insurance needs for wineries.

We then took a short break for lunch and when we came back they discussed the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). They went over licensing requirements and labeling approvals. It is very important that every label be approved before a wine can be sold. They then brought the winery panel back up to discuss the importance of wine quality. It is also important to make sure you have a quality wine before it is sold. Many stated that selling quality wine is not only important for your own winery and reputation but also for the Ohio wine industry as a whole. Todd Steiner and Dave Scurlock went over resources that are available through OSU-OARDC.

Towards the end of the day, they shifted topics to the tasting room and marketing, both very important aspects of the wineries success. They went over tasting room layouts and training for staff to help boost sales. For marketing, they stressed the importance of social media presence and marketing campaigns. When advertising wine, there are also some regulations and they gave everyone a hand out for the restrictions. Each attendee was provided with a binder that has all of the contacts for the speakers and their presentations. This information is very beneficial to anyone hoping to get into the industry and it is great to see the successful wineries providing their insight and knowledge.  I would recommend this seminar next year to any of the KSUA Wine Degree students or anyone wanting to enter the industry.


Eastern Winery Exposition Recap

By Kathy Crowley

“Modern winegrowing east of the Rockies has evolved from native American grapes to European vinifera and vinifera hybrid grapes. First generations of these vinifera vineyards followed a vine-design model that is better suited to juice or high volumes of sweet or sparkling wines. Today, new generation vineyards producing dry table wines are finding success in taking a more classic European approach beginning with closer vine spacing.” – Lucie Morton

Lucie Morton, Viticulturist

Lucie Morton, Viticulturist

I was fortunate to be awarded a student scholarship to the 2015 Eastern Winery Exposition held in Syracuse, New York March 16-19th.  The conference provided insights in several areas that will be useful as I begin my journey toward establishing my own vineyard and winery in Madison, Ohio.  Lucie Morton gave led two sessions, both of which gave me insights into my goals and the wine industry.

Her first session “7 best ways to start a Vineyard” was part of the pre-conference workshops geared toward new vineyard establishment.  She partnered with Mike White (Iowa State University Extension) to present key concepts, some that mirrored the material in KSUA/VESTA courses, others that were new (but obvious after hearing them):

Best ways to start a Vineyard

  1. Study up, visit area vineyards and work in a vineyard (M. White). This ties directly to the coursework at KSUA/VESTA for the AAS/Certification in Viticulture through class work and practicum requirements.
  2. Right grapes, in the right place, at the right time (L. Morton). Design the vineyard for long-term sustainability and mechanization (even if not mechanized in early years). Pick a high site with good drainage and airflow, prepare the vineyard soil well in advance of planting (advocates digging deep soil pits for accurate soil analysis), and plant grapes known for growing well in your area and SELL well in your area.  Custom order the exact mix of clones and rootstock to match your site(s).  As part of our coursework, we are out in local vineyards learning about what works (and grows) and what does not work locally due to weather, soils and other considerations.
  3. Train and retain good vineyard workers (L. Morton). Labor will be your largest cost year-over-year, retaining workers trained to your standards and to YOUR vineyard is a key ingredient in a vineyard that has sustainable success at harvest.

Worst ways to start a vineyard

  1. Expecting a return on investment earlier than year ten (10) or expecting to cash-in/make a fortune on the reported grape shortage. One phrase I’ve learned networking locally is that your grapes need to have a home (well before harvest) and you need to know how you will harvest them (see #4).
  2. Planting a vineyard in a forest clearing, or with wind blocks on more than two (2) sides, or waiting to address drainage issues after vines are planted. This echoed a common theme from my coursework, failure to plan your vineyard is planning to fail.  You only get to do site preparation once, spend the time to take care of water and weed issues and any soil deficiencies.
  3. Planting grapes that make wine you like to drink. Focus should be on grapes that produce wine appealing to your intended market and customer demographics.
  4. Your labor plan is based predominantly on family and friends over the long-term (volunteers). She stressed having a solid plan for labor or level of mechanization that matches your expected harvest.

In her second session “Straight talk on Plant Material”, Ms. Morton talked about the importance of plant material being virus-free (clean) and being suited to your planting site.  She stressed that even with eastern-based vine propagation, the USDA germplasm repository is infected with red blotch and various forms of leaf roll virus.  She mentioned a new certification protocol 2010, and that nurseries are replanting in virgin soils to meet that certification protocol, but it takes time for those new plantings to grow into the first iteration of bud wood.

This topic interested me because of the most recent two years of cold weather causing replants in the Grand River AVA, and the quality of these replants given the large number of people replanting at the same time.  There are and will be shortages for grafted vines from “clean stock” until all the nurseries have time to convert into the 2010 certification protocol.

In summary, my time at the Eastern Winery Exposition was well-spent.  I was able to meet several growers in the New York state area, and had discussions with others who are starting a vineyard and/or winery.  Many valuable contacts were made with people more than willing to help me be successful in my endeavors.

Additional Information on the Clean Plant Network


Eastern Winery Exposition Recap

By Abbe Turner

Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to work in the Ohio wine industry. Not only do we get to spend time outdoors in the vineyard but the wines we produce are unique, interesting, pair beautifully with food, and bring joy to the heart. I was reminded of this at a educational session that I attended at the Eastern Winery Exposition on Winery Design Considerations. I admit that I am guilty of not always putting the “customer experience” first when meeting the daily demands and challenges of running a small farm and artisan creamery- broken equipment, late shipments, HR issues and pressing production demands. But when guests come to visit Lucky Penny Farm,  what they are seeking is a special culinary experience and a way to connect to local foods and agriculture in Ohio. They don’t care that my ancient milk pump (that I can no longer order replacement parts for) has decided to not work. They come to us for the experience of the cheeses-cow, goat and sheep,  the sizzle AND the steak, and it is our job to meet their needs through customer service, quality products and a pleasing environment.

Scott Scarfone, of Oasis Design group, spoke on “Destination Wineries” that create a “Sense of Place” as a means to attract customers and generate revenue. And he spoke about weddings as a lucrative income stream, that is if you can can staff it appropriately and deliver the “experience” promised. I paid close attention to his words as we are hosting our first creamery wedding this weekend at Lucky Penny. As I envisioned the event catering menu, placement of tables, chairs, electrical outlets for the DJ and more, the pretty young bride’s biggest concern was where she and her bridesmaids would be able to get dressed on that special day. It reminded me that we need to stop and reflect from an outsiders perspective, and meet the needs of our guests emotionally where they are coming from in our creamery as well as the tasting room. So today I vow to deliver a meaningful customer experience, to our farmers market customers as well as the bride and groom. Congratulations to Leah and Drew, from all of us at Lucky Penny Farm. Thank you for entrusting us to share in your special day.

Photo caption- Lucky Penny Creamery- Polenta and Goat Cheese Salad- Shannon Miller Photography

Lucky Penny Creamery: Polenta and Goat Cheese Salad- Shannon Miller Photography

2014 KSUA/VESTA Student Scholarship Recipients’ Experiences

2014 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference Experience

By Frederick Robinson

I arrived at the 2014 Ohio Grape and Wine conference on Monday evening (3/17/14) in time for the Ohio wine reception and was able to enjoy sampling a number of fine wines from wineries such as Ferrante and M Cellars. This was a partially enjoyable event as I was able to meet several of the winemakers from wineries that I have visited in my travels and met a number of new contacts in the wine business.

On the second day of the conference I was able to attend a number of highly technical presentations on winemaking. While I learned a considerable amount from these sessions, perhaps the most important thing I learned was how much more there is to know about quality winemaking. Fortunately I found that all of the winemakers that I was able to talk with were all eager to share their expertise. In every case they welcomed me to contact them in the future with any questions. There were also other sessions that included an update on changes to the Ohio regulatory compliance regulations and winery sanitation inspections. I found these to be very informative and helpful.

Between sessions there was plenty of time to visit the exhibitor’s hall and speak with representatives from every facet of the winemaking business. These included suppliers (including everything from bottles and labels to vineyard and winemaking equipment and even grape plants) as well as winery/vineyard designers and insurance companies. My favorite stop was to speak with the representative (Maggie McBride) from Scott Laboratories where I was able to pick up their latest catalogs, some yeast samples, and more importantly, some great advice. Once again, she gave an open invitation to contact her with any winemaking/fermenting problems. I’m sure I will have a need to take her up on this offer in the future.

My attendance at the 2014 Ohio Grape and Wine Convention was a very rewarding experience.  I brought home with me an incredible amount of information that I look forward to putting into action in my future winemaking endeavors and made numerous new contacts in the business that I will be contacting as well. All in all, a very enjoyable experience and I have every intention of attending again next year.

While all of the sessions at the conference were informative, I found that the “Essential Laboratory Procedures for Commercial Wineries” session given by Patrick Pierquet from the Ohio State University OARDC to be of particular interest to me. His analytical approach to testing throughout the winemaking process just seemed to appeal to the way that I think and it introduced me to a number of tests that I had not known of previously. While his presentation included a wealth of information, it started with a very simple idea: “You can’t control what you don’t measure.” Patrick has outlined 9 essential analyses that should be measured. These are:

  • Soluble Solids
  • pH
  • Titratable Acidity
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Alcohol Content
  • Malolactic Fermentation
  • Protein Stability
  • Tartrate Stability
  • Volatile Acidity

Patrick  believes that testing should begin at pre-harvest and stresses that your goal should be to take a sample that would accurately reflect the entire vineyard and specifically looking at soluble solids (found by refractometers and hydrometer) and pH which will help determine ripeness of the fruit, color stability of must and wine, chemical and microbiological stability of the wine and the amount of free SO2 for wine stability.

Measuring Titratable Acidity (best done using an illuminated stir plate) gives a partial indicator of fruit maturity, is an aid to amelioration and/or acid adjustment of must as well as for blending and sugar adjustments prior to bottling.

Sulfur Dioxide is one of the most important measurements for making quality wine. Although I have used Titret kits in the past, he informed us that the OARDC does not recommend either this method or the ripper method and suggests using the Aeration-Oxidation method. (PD Note: VESTA students have the opportunity to learn these techniques during the Wine and Must Analysis Workshop, which is required as part of the course of the same name.)

Ethanol Analysis is measured by distillation or Ebullimeter and is important to determine for proper labeling as well as microbial stability and sensory effects.

Malolactic Fermentation is the bacterial conversion of malic to lactic acid. This increases the wine pH and decreases TA while also improving the stability of the wine. Patrick described the process of paper chromatography which is the suggested method to monitor this. This is a procedure that I had no knowledge of previously. (PD Note: Again, students learn about this during the Wine and Must Analysis course.)

Protein Stability can be determined by using a simple heat test where a sample is heated to 120 F for 48 hours and then allowed to return to room temperature for 24 hours. You can then check the wine for particles, haze or amorphous deposits.

Tartrate Stability (or instability) can best be seen is cool/cold wine as potassium bitartrate precipitates as crystals. Although they do not really effect the wine, customers may still reject it. There are several methods to test wine cold stability such as moderate refrigeration test, freezing test, and conductivity change.

Volatile Acidity will help give and indication of the soundness of the wine and must be determined to make sure it is within legal limits but is also important because it can mask fruit aromas. This is best measured with steam distillation followed by NaOH titration.

Patrick also suggested some other tests (Free Amino Nitrogen, Residual sugar analysis and microscopic evaluation) and suggest that we purchase the Basic Wine Analysis DVD that is available from Presque Isle Wine Cellars (which I have already done). He also believes keeping records of all these measures [is critical] to have a base comparison for your future winemaking.

While all of these tests are considered standard in winemaking, I found Patrick’s call for an analytical, step by step approach very compelling and plan to use this in the future. As he said, “You can’t control what you don’t measure.”


Ohio Grape and Wine Conference

By Lori Albrecht

While I never would put down the value of an education received at a formal institution, there is something truly valuable about the education and enlightenment you receive by just talking and listening to people who have already done what you want to do. Experiencing firsthand the real life stories of a winemaker or a vineyard owner, one can truly begin to identify and place oneself in their position.  This was my experience recently traveling to the Ohio Grape and Wine Conference in Dublin, Ohio, supported by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee and the Ohio State University Viticulture and Enology Extension team.

When I originally signed up for this conference, I was sure that I would stick to the enology track of the presentations. Oddly enough however, I found as the first day progressed, that the viticulture topics intrigued me more. I found myself listening intensely whenever spray topics in particular were presented and mentally patted myself on the back whenever something hit on an issue I had experienced during one of my viticulture practicums. I know what he is talking about, I thought. Not only did I know, but I could also ask valid pointed questions and discuss it further with people who I could now consider in many respects, peers.

I think that is what is so valuable about my education so far in the Viticulture and Enology program received from VESTA and Kent State University. Opportunities such as this Ohio Grape and Wine Conference and the hands on experience that we all get from practicum work, enable us to make our own stories of real life lessons, lessons that hopefully we can pass on to the next generation of winemakers and wine growers coming up through the program after us.

I am so glad I got the chance to win a scholarship to this event, because not only did I get to taste many award winning wines from all over Ohio but I also got the chance to network with over 200 extraordinary people. What a great opportunity and all in one place!


Wineries Unlimited 2014

By Lori Albrecht

Marketing people are never popular. No winery ever advertises a ‘Meet the marketer’ at their tasting events, but I found that the Sales and Marketing seminars at the Wineries Unlimited both entertaining and very enlightening.

The first seminar I attended was given by Donniella Winchell from the Ohio Wine Producers. Donnie’s topic focused on marketing to specific social groups and she gave some really good pointers on how to tailor your brand to attract people from each group. She focused the majority of her dialog on the Boomers and the Millennials, giving key marketing strategies for each. She also spoke about the difference in marketing to males and females.  Another thing she mentioned was the need to focus more marketing on attracting the business of both the Hispanic and African American groups to our wineries. She stated that we are missing out on a lot of new business by not doing more for that consumer group.  I walked away from her session with a new perspective on creating real lasting connections across all social groups in the winery.

Next, I attended the session given by Gary Finnan from the Ovation Guild. Gary spoke in this seminar about the need to tailor your tasting room towards creating a destination place.  He pressed the need to make sure that you don’t create barriers in the tasting room by having counters too high which implied a physical barrier between the staff and the customer. He encouraged ADA compliant height counters instead and walking out from behind the counter to engage with customer and make them feel more welcome.  Environments that create the feeling of having an experience and making the connection was once again what I got out of this sales and marketing session.

The last session I attended on that day also talked along the same vein but emphasized as well the need to not think about what would benefit the winery but rather on focusing instead about how to make it appear that the benefit is aimed at the consumer.  If the consumer feels they are getting something at your winery that is special and tailored to their needs, they are more likely to remain loyal to your brand rather than look elsewhere. Once again it’s how they feel connected that matters most.

I got a lot out of this conference and definitely would attend it again next year if the opportunity presents itself.


Review of the 2014 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference

By Will Huber

The 2014 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference was the first industry conference I had ever attended and I was very impressed.  There were several great speakers and about a dozen vendors selling everything from yeast and bottles to vineyard equipment and vines.  The venue was great, it made sense to have the conference in Columbus, the center of Ohio, and the Crowne Plaza was a great hotel and conference center.  The food and wine were amazing as well, one of my favorite pats of the conference was the banquet where I got to know the winemakers at The Winery at Versailles, two new winery owners, and a farmer who had just started growing grapes.  This good conversation was paired with a four course meal with each course being paired with an Ohio wine.

The seminars were very informative and could be useful to beginners in the industry like myself and veterans who have been growing grapes or making wine for decades.  There were even a couple of seminars which included wine tastings.  One in particular was led by JL Groux the winemaker at Stratus Winery in Ontario.  His review of the harvest and winemaking practices for each wine was captivating and overall he was a very entertaining speaker with a unique background.   I have included two reviews of my favorite seminars below; one focusing on viticulture and the other focusing on enology.

My favorite viticulture seminar was led by Peter Sforza from Virginia Tech University.  His topic was using web-based geospatial information as a tool for evaluating possible vineyard locations.  Peter has been using publicly available databases containing information on topography, temperatures, soil testing, etc. to compile a report that can be used to determine if a selected plot of land would be suitable for grape growing.  The beta version of the program allows a prospective vineyard owner to type in the location of a plot of land, highlight the area they wish to use for grape growing, and in less than 10 minutes received tons of beneficial information that would have taken them hours, or even days to compile on their own.  The report generates detailed information on the areas climate such as annual precipitation, Growing Degree Days, and average growing season temperature.  Also included are details regarding the soil such as pH, organic matter, and available water capacity.  To someone that does not know a lot about what conditions are suitable for growing grapes, these would be just statistics.  Luckily, the report includes a summary of the results which also provides ranges of these figures where grape growing is ideally suited.  For example, the report I generated says that my plot of land has an average soil depth of about 60 cm. which is outside the recommended range of greater than 75 cm.  However the pH of my soil looks good at an average of 5.13* which is within the recommended range of 4.0-7.5.  This kind of information allows a vineyard owner to be proactive and anticipate the problems that may arise on their particular plot of land.  Peter plans on adding additional features and information to the program in the future including analyses of different varietals which would allow the land owner to choose the varietals with the highest chance of growing success on their plot of land.  Peter also plans to include dates of average budbreak, harvest, as well as spring and fall frosts which would allow vineyard owners to improve their vineyard practices and anticipate changes in weather.  Some improvements will come from the recently launched LandSat 8 satellite which will be able to provide more detailed information on the topography of the land.  The models also require validation by growers in the Midwest and Eastern United States.  So far most of the feedback has come from growers in Washington state.  The other limitations of the system are that it uses a bare earth model which does not take into account trees, buildings, and other large structures which may influence the land.  Also, the climate data is the most accurate when the land is near a weather station collecting the data, if, however, the land is far away from a weather station the climate data is not going to be as accurate.  I really enjoy the work that Peter is doing at Virginia Tech, I believe it has great potential to improve vineyard site selection and help vineyard owners get the most out of their land and their grapes.

My favorite enology seminar was led by Dr. Gavin Sacks from Cornell University.  Dr. Sacks discussed sulfur dioxide measurements in the winery and went into detail about the pros and cons of the methods currently used today.  He also provided a lot of beneficial information on sulfur dioxide, why it is important, its chemical composition in wine, and how to determine how much sulfur dioxide is needed in a given wine.  This background information was great for a beginning winemaker such as myself and since my education was in biochemistry I really enjoyed how Dr. Sacks was thorough in explaining how sulfur dioxide functions chemically.  Dr. Sacks went through the principle behind both the aeration oxidation method and the Ripper method and went into detail about the benefits and drawbacks to each method.  For example, with the Ripper method it is difficult to determine the endpoint of the titration when a red wine is being tested.  I recently performed both of these methods at the VESTA Wine and Must Analysis workshop in the Fall and I agreed with many of the points Dr. Sacks was making.  In addition to the testing methods Dr. Sacks explained the relationship between pH and available molecular sulfur dioxide.  This information coupled with the sensory threshold of sulfur dioxide drove home the point that in low pH wines the test method needs to be very accurate in order to ensure stability in the wine without exceeding the sensory threshold.  Dr. Sacks briefly described some more expensive methods for sulfur dioxide measurement such as using WineScan and capillary electrophoresis, but for most winemakers the capital expenditure of these instruments is prohibitive.  The next part of the presentation was the most intriguing part.  Dr. Sacks described research he and his colleagues had been doing on alternative sulfur dioxide test methods that are both inexpensive and overcome some of the drawbacks to the AO and Ripper test methods.   The set up for one of his methods involves using a colorimetric gas detection tube to measure the concentration of volatilized sulfur dioxide.  This principle method can also be applied to measuring volatile acidity without the need for a cash still.  Due to the prices of the gas detection tubes and the fact that they are not reusable, this method could get quite expensive if sulfur dioxide measurements are taken frequently.  However, as a small winemaker I do like this method for volatile acidity measurements which are unlikely to be tested very often and is much more economical than purchasing a cash still.  Dr. Sacks is continuing to do research on SO2 test methods which will require no acidification/dilution step.  The main lesson I learned from the presentation was that SO2 plays an important role in the winemaking process and it is therefore very important to have an accurate and reproducible test method to measure SO2.

I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Ohio Grape and Wine Conference.  It was great connecting with people who are passionate about wine, especially those who are involved with the VESTA program.  The lunch for VESTA students, graduates, and administrators on Monday was an excellent opportunity to hear what other students are doing with their education and how the administrators see the program evolving.  Just sitting down to discuss the program with everyone really made it more than just online classes, it felt like a community.  I definitely plan on attending the Ohio Grape and Wine Conference in the future.  I would also like to branch out and attend other conferences around Ohio and eventually the Unified Symposium.  I also can’t stress enough how thankful I am that VESTA offered scholarships to this conference and others around the country.  This conference was a tremendous supplement to my wine education and invaluable to my future as a winemaker.

*Program Director’s note: A soil pH of 5.13 is too low for wine grape production, and although there was a time when it was thought that Concord grapes thrive in acidic soil, we now know better.

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