Indiana’s Huber Winery Harvesting More Vinifera
This is the second in a two-part profile of Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards in Southern Indiana. The first segment- Indiana’s Huber Winery: Seven Generations and 600 Acres- explained the history of the winery and how it became one of the most diversified wineries in the country. (Homepage photo: Ted Huber loading grapes at dawn.)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 — A heavy mist has only begun to dissipate, the sun hasn’t yet peeked over the nearby hill tops and a sliver of new moon still hangs overhead as Ted Huber begins moving bins and other equipment around in the winery. He, AJ Huber, David Greenwell (another of the farm managers) and a field crew of 11 then head to the vineyard to pick Pinot Gris. The crew members are second generation members of two Mexican families. More than half of them live on the estate year-round.
As the harvesting begins a stream of cars enter the estate. Cousin Debbie Adams, general manager of events, says 160 persons are coming from Clark Memorial Hospital for a leadership institute. Cousin Julie Coots, executive chef of the banquet kitchen, will be serving them breakfast, lunch and cobbler for their afternoon snack.
Grape harvest this year started July 25, weeks earlier than usual and, by eight days, the earliest in the farm’s entire history, Ted says.
Huber has two blocks of Pinot Gris. One block is young, only third leaf, which Ted does not expect will produce the tonnage of the mature block. He uses Pinot Gris to produce a ‘bone dry” wine which sells quickly, mostly grabbed up by Huber’s 1200 wine club members.
Greenwell, who isn’t a blood relative but has been with the family business for 39 years, moves the baskets of picked grapes between the rows of vines with a forklift and loads them onto two trucks. Ted’s father, Gerald, and father-in-law, Bob Temple, drive the grapes to the winery where a team sorts through the grapes before they drop into a destemmer. Gerald and Bob are officially retired, Ted says, but frequently ‘help out.”
‘We hand pick and hand sort all our grapes,” Ted explains. “It produces better wines.”
Among the winery team is Sophie Archinard, a foreign exchange student from France who is spending three months at Huber, studying winemaking. Huber sponsors several educational tours and programs. A guided tour around the estate in the ‘Grain Train,” gives young visitors an introduction to life on the farm.
By midday, Ted learns the tonnage from the Pinot Gris is at the top of his estimate, confirming what he said earlier that the warm and dry weather had not significantly reduced production or damaged quality. Early harvest, however, has meant some ‘mental adjustments.” He says he normally takes a vacation in July.
The warmer climate has also led to a change in winery operations. From destemmer the Pinot Gris is piped through a chiller, the newest piece of equipment at the winery. The chiller lets Ted reduce the temperature of the grapes by 20 degrees or more which, in turn, lets the field crew pick all day. Without the chiller Huber stopped picking whenever temperatures reached 80 degrees for fear of spoilage. With the warming climate, ‘we almost had to have it,” Ted says.
After picking grapes, the field crew joins Greg to pick peaches from step ladders. They pick only the highest hanging fruit. Lower hanging fruit is reserved for U-Pick customers, Greg explains.
Many Midwest wineries are planting hybrid varieties that have been developed specifically to survive Midwest weather. Not Huber.
‘We’re going the other way,” Ted says. He’s planting more viniferas, varieties that wine makers only a few years ago believed would not survive Midwest winters. Huber is already growing many of the famous French grapes–such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and a not so famous Tannat.
See related story: Offbeat European Grapes Growing Across the Midwest
Huber does not grow one famous French grape — Merlot. Ted says it doesn’t do well in the Huber vineyard, though a neighbor, who is Huber’s only contract supplier, is growing it. Thus Merlot wine may or may not be in Huber’s future.
[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”The varieties Huber presently grows for wine making are:” float=”true” align=”right” width=”200″]
Another famous grape that does not impress Ted when grown at Huber is Chardonnay. ‘We can grow it, but our Chardonel makes a better wine.” Huber’s ‘tank” Chardonel is a popular summertime patio wine while the complex barrel-fermented version is a wine enthusiast’s delight.
Another reason Ted is producing more dry red wine is the change he sees in his customers. ‘Louisville area wine drinkers more and more want dry red.” So Ted happily produces it and has converted an entire room in Huber’s underground wine cellar to nothing but dry red — more than 230 barrels of it.
‘Six or eight barrels went a long way in 1988. Some would be setting on the shelf.” In the 80s one had to search for a dry red on Huber’s tasting list. Today, there are often four or more.
Ted says the tasting list at Huber is frequently changed because customers’ tasting habits have changed. They used to taste beofre deciding what wine they wanted to buy. Now, he says, customers are more likely tasting to compare one wine to another and ‘to have a good time.”
Huber Orchard and Winery is accustomed to bringing home wine awards. Ted was named Indiana’s 2011 Winemaker of the Year. This year at the Indy International Wine Competition the winery won Double Gold for its 2010 Heritage, a hefty Bordeaux-like blend of Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Also winning Double Gold at Indy were a sparkling Valvin Muscat, two Brandies and a port-style Chambourcin. The winery was also awarded two single gold medals and a host of silver and bronze ones.