A southern Indiana tradition

Christian and Blake Huber made career plans not long after learning to walk. If that seems silly, it makes perfect sense in a nearly 175-year-old family business.

The Huber family has farmed property near Starlight, atop the hills overlooking Louisville and the Ohio River valley, since 1843. The youngsters’ plans assure the Huber name and tradition will continue for a seventh generation.

“I was in kindergarten,” 20-year-old Christian said, stifling a laugh. “We had one of those ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ things. I wrote down winemaker and my teacher thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ His family alcoholics or something?’”

Turning over a growing business with 130 full-time employees and 700 acres in agricultural production was never a given. Blake said his parents never pressured him or his brother to consider the family winery as a career.

The young men’s first steps are underway. Christian attends Niagara University in its viticulture/oenology program at Ontario, Canada. He is in the second semester of a two-year program. He spent parts of last year at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis studying marketing and supply side economics. Blake is a senior at Providence High School.

Christian has considered California’s UC Davis, the country’s most prominent winemaking program, but cannot enroll until he turns 21. Blake is narrowing his college choices and trying to decide between winemaking or chemistry.

The proud parents couldn’t be more certain that when retirement comes, and Ted assures anyone listening he’s not ever retiring, the boys will carry on the legacy.

“They both have natural ability,” Ted said. “We really officially can’t taste wine with them because they’re under 21. But both boys have a unique ability to be phenomenal blenders.”

Dana said her sons are passionate and have a strong desire to learn.

“Neither is going to quit until the job is done,” she said. “They’re both competitive, and that will serve them well. They’re community leaders, and they’ve shown that on their high school sports teams.”

Ted is just 50 years old. His concern for his sons is turning over a business experiencing rapid growth.

“Turning over a business experience small growth is fairly easy,” he said. “But 20 percent-plus is pretty substantial number to keep up. You’re growing a business, and buildings have to be built, new vineyards are rotating in and out and new vines have to be planted. Taking over and running a company while it’s growing is a much bigger concern than when I took over.”

The boys aren’t shy talking about the future and admit to more than a few late nights talking about putting their stamp on the family business.

“It will be about expanding our distilled products and our line of wines,” Blake said. “We want to have a viable whiskey on the market. We’ve talked of getting a new tasting room, creating a new atmosphere but keeping the (original) barn.

“My dad has the product quality at a high level, and hopefully, Christian and I can keep up the legacy Dad and Grandpa started.”

As the next generation prepares to take over, the Starlight Distillery business is booming.

Huber purchased 100 acres of farmland near the winery to grow corn for the distillery. Efforts in the distillery have recently focused on whiskey. The distillery is bottling just a small portion of the finished product now, while the remainder goes into barrels for aging.

The distillery has ramped up to 130 percent of capacity, Ted offered, with more construction planned for later this year. As a matter of fact, in four to six years, the total distillery production should match the current wine output of 50,000 cases annually.

The seventh generation of Huber farmers is ready to continue a southern Indiana tradition.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Contact Hewitt at hewitthoward@gmail.com.