Kent State Ashtabula releases Radiance white wine

A bottle of Kent State’s Radiance wine, bottled by the students and faculty at the Kent State Ashtabula campus.

Sophie Giffin Reporter

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited for accuracy and regarding location of Finger Lakes, New York.

Kent State released Radiance, the university’s fourth wine, as a part of their viticulture and enology program at Kent State Ashtabula. 

Made from Pinot Grigio, Muscat and Chardonnay grapes harvested from Markko Vineyards in Northeast Ohio, the white wine “features pleasant aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruit,” according to the bottle’s label.

The label describes the sourcing of the grapes and the flavors of the wine but it doesn’t reveal all the small details that came together for this wine to be produced. The name Radiance was chosen just as the world seems to finally be brightening up after over a year of pandemic.

Radiance is a vintage wine and all of the grapes used in its blend were grown and harvested in 2020.

“2020 has been an insane year for everyone but the interesting thing is that it was a fairly good growth year in our local vineyards,” said Lori Lee, program liaison for the viticulture and enology department at Kent State Ashtabula. 

Due to closures and COVID-19 precautions, the program was not able to release a wine in 2020. Even as Radiance began to come together, the program and its students were not short of obstacles. However, many things and people came together to create such a nice wine, starting with their partnership with Laurello Vineyards, who won best winery of 2020 from the Cleveland Hot List.

The partnership came years before Radiance and Lee said it was “a natural fit,” not just a fit for Kent State who needed a partnership to have a private label and be able to produce wine without a liquor license but for their viticulture and enology students as well. 

“It’s a nice experience for the students to be exposed to what they’re likely to be able to invest in and afford if they want to go out and open their own winery,” Lee said. “They have really opened their doors to us and let our students in.”

Brad Indoe, an alum of the program who now works at Laurello Vineyards, had an opportunity to work with current students as a teacher and mentor.

Indoe was approached by Markko Vineyards about tending to their vineyard last year. Arnie Ester, who was the original winemaker and owner for the historic vineyard for over 50 years, passed away last October and Indoe was entrusted with caring for the vineyard.

“Ester was a pioneer of the wine industry in Northeast Ohio, and his vineyard was one of the first to grow the French vinifera grape varieties,” Indoe said. 

“Before that it was mostly native grapes, like the concords,” Indoe said. “They don’t really make the best wines; as far as a world class wine like chardonnay, you can’t make a quality wine out of concord grapes.”

Indoe shared how Ester proved those grape varieties could be grown in Ohio’s cold climate and how he learned from a famous wine maker and researcher, Dr. Frank up in the Finger Lakes of New York.

“He’s pretty much how we got here today with all the wineries. He’s the father of all that,” Indoe said.

Many of the vines at Markko Vineyards come from the original vines Ester had brought back from the Finger Lakes decades before — the same vines Indoe had cared for for the last year. 

Indoe then approached Ed Trebets, the enology faculty member at Kent State, and suggested they use Ester’s grapes to create another Kent State wine.

“We wanted to take his grapes, [which are] student made, to show that we can grow outstanding grapes here,” Trebets said. “It’s locally grown [and] locally made, which is very important to us.”

It was exciting for the program to use Ester’s grapes, although they didn’t process them the same way Ester would have, Lee said. 

“Arnie only processed in oak and we processed this particular wine in stainless steel,” she said. “We made some different decisions with it to try to bring out its taste characteristics the way we wanted it to taste.” 

Each part of the Radiance recipe was intentional. The wine was steel and cold fermented, which Trebet said was important for its flavor. 

“Those flavors come through with the fermentation and temperature,” Trebets said, “kind of like cooking. By controlling the temperature we can keep those wonderful aromas and flavors.”

In order to achieve the specific flavors they wanted, the team worked together through the obstacles of COVID-19. 

“Brad would take sample blends and drop them off at Ed’s porch,” Lee said. 

Students of the program were also able to be hands-on from time to time despite the pandemic in roles ranging from picking grapes to bottling the wine.

Senior enology major Samantha Loy was one of the students present at Radiance’s bottling and said the moments of hands-on work were the highlight of her experience. 

“As a student, I always learn so much during the practicum site experiences,” she said. “Getting to do the hands-on work, seeing how the equipment and bottling line operates and just being able to help others in the industry and learn from them is an amazing experience.”

“Hard work and dedication, along with an understanding of science and the wine-making process, are essential to making flavorful wines,” Loy said.

“They always say wine starts in the vineyard and it’s true,” she said. “From the vine to the wine, there is so much time and passion that goes into each bottle. Sunset and Radiance are two perfect examples of what happens when science and art meet.”

Radiance holds a special place for those who created it, from the history of its grapes to the group of people that worked around a pandemic to create a vibrant white wine with a dry, summery flavor profile.

Radiance and other Kent State wines are available for purchase at Laurello Vineyards in Geneva and Grumpy Grandpa’s Git & Go in Ashtabula. Lee and Indoe are working on getting the wines into sellers like Giant Eagle and Campus Wine Cellar in the Kent area.

Those interested in trying Radiance or supporting Kent State by purchasing other wines are encouraged to do so. Previous Kent State wines have sold quickly. 

“Our red wine had its third bottling and it’s still been sold out for a year because it sells so fast,” Indoe said. 

The viticulture and enology program is also expanding to beer brewing this fall. For those interested in taking courses, Lee and Trebets encourage any students over the age of 21 to take one of their courses that are mostly online and flexible. 

“Ultimately,” Lee said, “the idea is to get the word out about the program to as many people as we can.”

Sophie Giffin is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]