Ashtabula campus adds degrees in wine


Jenna Watson, senior photojournalism major, inspects her wine for oxidation for Wines of Northeast Ohio class at Silver Run Vineyard and Winery in Norton, Ohio.

Katie Rush

Kent State’s Ashtabula campus offers two associate degrees in wine studies through the enology and viticulture tracks, both available as online classes.

Danielle Weiser-Cline, an academic adviser at Ashtabula’s campus, said enology is a science that follows the cultivation of a successfully grown vine, while viticulture is the process of growing grapes. The degree will concentrate on biology and horticulture, Weiser-Cline said, as well as how to prune a grapevine and care for vines throughout their lifespans. 

“Viticulture is really centered around the plant and bringing the plant to fruit,” Weiser-Cline said.  “The intersection between viticulture and enology happens during the harvest.”

In a 2014 article printed in The Plain Dealer, a report for the Ohio Grape Industries Committee found that there were 175 wineries in Ohio in 2012, a 41 percent increase from 2008, when the previous study was released.

According to the article, these wineries accounted for a significant chunk of the annual economic impact, with employee wages, sales of wine and tourism expenditures for the year estimated at nearly $330 million.

“We wanted the degree to meet the needs of the Ohio industry,” Weiser-Cline said.

This impact affected the Ashtabula community, with the Grand River Valley grape region in Ashtabula and Lake counties being ranked as the sixth-best United States wine destinations in a 2007 survey by Orbitz Worldwide Travel Company.

“Our local industry members were very passionate about educational opportunities for their workers,” Weiser-Cline said. “(Since then), we’ve partnered with a national consortium called Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA).”

According to their site, VESTA is a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between the Missouri State University system and colleges, universities, vineyards and wineries across America. The goal of VESTA is to establish programs of study in viticulture, enology and wine business entrepreneurship through collaborations with education institutions, government and industry.

This partnership has helped the number and types of degrees offered at Kent State’s Ashtabula campus grow. Since the  programs were introduced in 2011, there has been a steady increase in enrollment. Continued growth is expected in the future.

Professor Eric Cotton is teaching introduction to viticulture and wine and must analysis for the enology program during this semester. Cotton is a chemical controls engineer and has been growing his own grapes for winemaking for more than ten years. He emphasized the chemistry, planning and research incorporated into wine making.

“It’s farming. It’s hard work,” he said. “It’s good to get exposed to the science before making the commitment (to grow).”

Laura Witherow, a senior viticulture major at the Ashtabula campus and a first semester student in the viticulture program, said she came across the degree after it was advertised on Facebook.

“One of the vineyards I ‘liked’ (on Facebook) posted a picture of someone working in the vineyards with the caption, ‘one of our viticulture students pruning the vines’,” she said. “That post made me curious, and after a quick Google search I learned Kent has a wine degree right here in Ohio.”

Christopher Rohr, a freshman enology major at the Ashtabula campus, said his interest started when he first started experimenting with wine at home.

“While I was experimenting, I became more and more interested in winemaking,” he said.

Rohr said he began working at a local winery and a co-worker mentioned they had previously graduated from the program.

Contact Katie Rush at [email protected].