MSU's Spartan Hospitality Group Announces Debut of Spartan Wines

sniffing wine
Published On: December 16, 2015

EAST LANSING, MICH. – Spartan Hospitality Group at MSU announces the debut of their custom-label Spartan wines. They produced the red and white wines in collaboration with Michigan winery Black Star Farms, an agricultural destination in Suttons Bay, and 45 North Vineyard and Winery, located in Lake Leelanau. The new, locally made Spartan product is available in the State Room at Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center or any Spartan Signature Catering licensed venue.

Offering a Spartan wine has been a longtime goal of Spartan Hospitality Group Director Joel Heberlein. Partnering with Black Star Farms and 45 North Vineyard and Winery was a natural fit. Not only do both establishments have the production capacity and produce award-winning wines, but both also have strong ties to MSU.

“It makes sense to promote Michigan-made products,” says Heberlein. “We want Spartan wine that MSU can embrace.”
Heberlein commissioned a local artist and writer to create bottle labels and respective copy. Award-winning local artist Barb Hranilovich created the original designs and followed MSU Licensing guidelines to promote the MSU brand properly. Part of the proceeds benefit university students through funding scholarships and special programming.
Two wines were chosen for this first-time collaboration: Leonidas Vintner’s Select 2012, a red table wine, and Cynisca 45 White 2014. They aptly named the wines after prominent individuals from the ancient Greek city of Sparta: warrior king, Leonidas, and princess of Sparta, Cynisca.
Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, was involved in the selection of the wines for this project. He says MSU alumni are strong supporters of Michigan-made products, specifically quality products associated with the university. He sees these wines becoming a favorite gift item that Spartan alumni worldwide will purchase for personal and business gift-giving.
“The demand is there for the product,” says Westerman. “This is going to generate a very positive conversation about Michigan State.”
Westerman also says the product’s design choices and personas strongly tie into the value of being a Spartan. Leonidas and Cynisca “are totally in sync with what we look for in the best of Spartans.”
The Cynisca is a blend of 100 percent Michigan-grown grapes that create a crisp, aromatic white wine, explains 45 North winemaker Jay Briggs.
Briggs, an MSU graduate, studied viticulture and enology: the science of wine and winemaking. As a student, he gained food and beverage experience working at the State Room Restaurant. Briggs has remained in touch with Heberlein since his days on campus, and the two often discussed the idea of the development of future Spartan wines. He is excited to see the plan come to fruition.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Briggs. “Now that it’s packaged and kind of the official white wine of MSU ... it’s really humbling.”
Leonidas red wine is a product of Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, Michigan. Black Star managing partner Don Coe says they have enjoyed a long-term working relationship with MSU and the Kellogg Center, working with the latter through numerous wine dinners and events.
“The Kellogg Center has been very good at supporting Michigan wines,” he says. “It would have been very difficult to start our business creating an agricultural destination without the support of Michigan State University.”
Black Star Farms employs numerous MSU graduates, including their head winemaker, Lee Lutes. Lutes explains that they made Leonidas red with Michigan-grown grapes found in the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas and that it has a flavor profile similar to that of a Bordeaux blend.
“It’s a true representative wine of northwest Michigan,” he says. “It’s something that we’re very proud of.”
A Michigan native as well as a Spartan alumnus, Lutes also guest lectures for the MSU Department of Horticulture, specifically Dr. Ronald Perry’s wine appreciation class. He says it is an honor to have one of his wines sold through MSU, and that it is a great way to showcase one component of Michigan agriculture and its impact on the state.
In a way, Michigan State is “putting a stamp of approval” on locally produced wines, which will help spread the word of their quality, he says.
Spartan Hospitality Group is part of the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services at Michigan State University. Visit for more information.