The New Beverage Barons
At Huber Winery, a Family Fun Park
“We always understood that not everybody drinks alcohol,” says Ted Huber, president, Huber Orchard & Vineyard and Starlight Distillery.
“We wanted a nice place for people to come to spend the afternoon out in the country and enjoy themselves. So as you see today, we are not focused on alcohol even in our weddings and corporate events.”
Someone who had never been to the winery, which is about 30 minutes from Louisville, might picture “this big focus of alcohol-producing atmosphere within our banquet facilities,” he says. “It’s there, but it’s not the focus. There aren’t large barrels flanking the walls, and that kind of stuff.”
That’s because the Hubers recognize that “some people like to enjoy a glass of wine on Saturday night. Other people like to have a glass every night. So there are differences out there.
“We have been very conscious about our image in the marketplace, and how we market. We are family first.”
Huber paused, thought back to the battles over Sunday sales and added:
“The chairman of the Indiana General Assembly’s Public Policy Committee never realized that alcohol and families could exist together. He simply couldn’t imagine it. All he could think of was bars and alcohol being consumed in that.
“Then we finally had our state representative get him down here. We walked him around the property. He started to realize this would be a great place to bring his grandchildren to. He’s not a drinker, doesn’t drink alcohol. He doesn’t have any issues with drinking, per se, but because he doesn’t, a winery wouldn’t be a place he’d normally come to.
“But he came here. And he saw that you could actually be in the tasting room and enjoy yourself watching other people have fun, and that it wasn’t bad for his kids or grandkids.
“He could go down to the family fun park, and have all this contact with agriculture — pears and grapes that eventually will be turned into wine. Rows and rows of apples and peaches that people are picking off the tree. And there’s apple pie being made in the bakery, ice cream being made from the same fruit. And there’s alcohol and spirits being made from the same fruit.
“What we try to do,” Huber said, is really educate people where the fruit comes from and where your alcohol comes from. We’re not Coca-Cola, cranking out a bottling line of stuff coming in from outside mixed in with your bottled wine.
“This is a vineyard. You see peaches on the hillside, your look over there, you see peach wine. You look here you see peach brandy. You look here, you see grapes. They are being made into both wine and brandy,” he said.
When we visited, Huber was building a new distillery, under the artisan distillery license. Construction got started immediately after he bought 200 acres from his neighbor. Looking out the distillery windows, “you can see rows and rows of corn, heading straight south and west.”
But the new distillery had been in the works for a while. “Then the property right next to us came up for sale. It had been a grain farm for as long as I can remember. It was just perfect for us, and the family really wanted us to be involved. We were offered it first, and it just worked out for us.”
The Huber’s banquet business was a result of discussions between the fifth and sixth generations about how to keep the farm in the family for generations to come.
“One of the big questions was how to bring people here in January, February and March when there’s not much to look at,” says Dana. “So we looked at the banquet facilities concept and started very slowly.
“When I was going to the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington,” Dana says, “I would come home on weekends to work our small corporate outing function. It was literally a very small room — open air, no carpet, not windows. The traditional country farm outing. That grew in popularity, which allowed us in the early 1990s to build Plantation Hall,” Huber’s 1,200-seat banquet facility.
“That just exploded,” Ted said. “People wanted to be here. On the patio you can have a brandy cocktail, or wine, or fresh apple cider. You know you are literally in the heart of agriculture.”
“In the heart of agriculture,” indeed. The day we visited, 17 tractors were busy on the property. Total employment was around 160 people that day.
“We built this up, just telling the story of agriculture,” Ted said. That’s what people come here for. You have salad, strawberry salad at this time of year. We grow basil. Tomatoes will be coming in soon. So you can bring your family here and you can see what agriculture is, what food is, how it’s produced and some of the finished products.”
That’s the same goal as the Indiana State Fair, the sixth oldest in the nation, having started in 1852. At the State Fair, visitors can see crops on display along with livestock (and, of course, the Midway). At Huber’s Orchard & Winery, however, they can see crops being cultivated, harvested and turned into useful products.
Dana’s a member of the Indiana State Fair Commission, which sets policy for the annual exposition. She played a key role in getting craft brewers and vintners the opportunity to sell their products at the 250-acre State Fairgrounds.
“Wine’s a pretty big business in Indiana,” Ted said. “We have close to 90 producing wineries. They are in almost every major population area within the state. There’s a winery within 20, 25 minute drive for every one.”
But Huber Winery & Orchard is probably the only one with a family fun park as part of its business, or a president who is also a distiller and chair of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.’s Small Distiller Membership.