STARLIGHT, IN. – Becoming a part of and eventually taking over a family business is a big challenge. Christian and Blake Huber are thriving and planning as they join the family’s day to day operations.
The Hubers have been on the same hilltop property near the little town of Starlight and just up that hill from New Albany since the early 1800s.
Huber Winery and Starlight Distillery have become industry leaders with the guidance of Ted and Dana Huber along with Ted’s cousin Greg and his wife. Dana and Ted’s sons have completed impressive wine education degrees and gained practical experience at a few of the world’s top wineries. The sons are ready to help the already-growing business and make their mark with a few bold new ideas.
Christian, the oldest of the two, is a graduate of Niagra University in its Viticulture/Oenology program at Ontario, Canada. He spent time at IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked harvests for California wineries like Joseph Phelps. Younger brother Blake graduated early this year from Cornell University’s wine study program. Among his internships was time spent this summer at Petrus in Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, France. He’s currently working at Napa Cab powerhouse Dominus.
Christian is working at the winery now and Blake will soon join his brother in full-time status.
So the young men are more than ready to help the family move forward in exciting directions. And, it’s not like Dad has been standing still. Huber Winery’s production has grown over the past couple years from 50,000 to 90,000 cases. The relatively new spirits business has become very successful and nationally recognized for excellence. Last year the spirits business sold approximately 10,000 six-pack cases. Christian said that growth could reach 15,000-20,000 this year.
Two years back, patriarch Ted said the goal was to match spirits production to the wine number.
Walking the grounds Wednesday (Oct. 14) with Christian and tasting wines and spirits, his enthusiasm alone forecasts interesting things.
He has planted Chardonnay, not Indiana-grown hybrid Cshardonel, and Pinot Noir on a recently acquired piece of property. The vines must age before you can taste and buy the wines but it’s a challenge. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow.
I’ve long told others Hubers has the best vineyard site in Indiana. They are successfully growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Right now the Cab Franc is the best of that lot. The vinifera blend Heritage is arguably the best red wine you can buy grown and made in Indiana.
But the Huber boys, let’s call them that, have their eyes on becoming known for the vinifera grapes instead of the hybrids grown in most of the state. Christian wants to soon plan Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Riesling, and perhaps Syrah.
His dream is to develop the Knobstone area with the family’s Indiana Uplands property as it’s own Agriculture Viticulture Area (AVA) or as a sub region. Knobstone is a rugged geological region in southern Indiana which has potential of growing difficult grapes with a traditional vinifera taste profile. The Pinot Noir is planted within the area now on top a limestone base. Those grapes aren’t ready to make wine yet but could be in the next year or two.
Christian also sees a Chardonnay made as an unoaked Chablis-style wine which would please wine fanatics.
The big picture is to create a Knobstone winery with its own label and even tasting room. The wines would be a premium product, at a higher price, unlike anything in the state.
But with all of the ambition and big plans, reality sometimes bites. The late frost in early 2020 devastated the vineyards. A normal harvest of 250-300 tons of grapes was just 100 tons this year.
I’ve long thought Huber diversity, with a new generation coming on board, and Oliver’s explosive growth are the two best wine stories in Indiana and maybe well beyond Hoosier borders. Wednesday’s visit proved that’s still the biggest news in Indiana wine.