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This article originally appeared in Louisville Magazine's September 1998 edition. John Nation's photos are reproduced here with permission.
By Robin Garr
Purple passion: The Huber family has been growing grapes and making wine in Starlight, Ind., since 1843.
PHOTOS BY JOHN NATION
In 1843, Simon Huber brought his family from Baden Baden, Germany, to the rolling farm country of Southern Indiana, where they bought land, planted fruit trees, and started making wine.
In 1966, Jerry Kushner, the first-generation American son of Russian Jewish immigrants, came to Louisville from Brooklyn, New York, by way of New England and Alabama. He and his wife Marilyn bought land, planted grapevines, and started making wine.
Today, the Huber family and the Kushner family share an idiosyncratic distinction: They operate the only two commercial wineries in metropolitan Louisville, not a region widely known as a source of fine table wines.
The Hubers, whose seventh generation now tills the rich agricultural farmland of Starlight, Ind., are widely known throughout the community as proprietors of what some wags call "an agricultural Disneyland," a farm-as-tourist-attraction business that includes a cheese factory, bakery, restaurant, petting zoo, produce shop and the acres of U-pick fields that made the Huber name locally famous -- along with, of course, the winery. And tasting room. And, coming soon, a catering hall.
The Kushners, with three generations of their own on the family land, have staked their claim on the woodsy knobs of far southeastern Jefferson County; and now that Jerry has retired from the General Electric Co., winemaking is his only business other than being a proud grandpa.
The idea of making quality wine in the Louisville area has to be defined as quixotic, as a little historical background makes clear. Louisville is not Napa, and it never will be.
Bushels of bunches: Huber Winery's 35 acres of vineyards yield enough grapes to turn out about 20,000 gallons of wine a year.|
When our immigrant ancestors came to the Colonies, they brought with them a thirst for good wine, but found to their horror that the species of grape that grows naturally in the New World (vitis labrusca, to botanists), while great for making jam and grape juice, imparts a strong and not particularly pleasant flavor to wine. But the kind of grapes that grow in Europe (vitis vinifera) don't thrive in the relatively harsh climate of the eastern U.S.
If winter freezes didn't kill the vines, summer humidity fostered a fungal rot that spoiled the grapes. Even such a noted connoisseur as Thomas Jefferson eventually gave up efforts to grow European wine grapes at his home in Monticello; and a Swiss immigrant named Jean-Jacques Dufour, who came to Kentucky and Southern Indiana some 200 years ago in the hope of fostering an infant wine industry, eventually left the region in disgust.
Only manifest destiny and the growth of the young nation from Atlantic to Pacific eventually brought us to California and a Mediterranean-style climate that finally permitted the development of a world-class American wine industry.
As for folks back East, plant scientists came up with a compromise -- a hybrid grape that sought to blend American vigor with European style in a vine that would grow in the Midwest. These "French-hybrid" grapes have fostered the development of small wineries in many Eastern states and Canada. But the sad reality has been that French-hybrid grapes, by and large, haven't made wines that compare favorably with the European originals.
Mule technology: Broad Run's Jerry Kushner believes in Old World grape-growing, which involves sweat, a sled and "team-work."
But Ted Huber, a smiling, tow-headed young gent who's now the family winemaker and represents the sixth generation of Hubers at Starlight, seems to have found a way to do something about that. Working closely with plant scientists at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., whom he credits with having taught him most of what he knows about vine-growing, winemaking and marketing, Huber is producing French-hybrid wines that taste more like European styles than any I've tried before. He also makes startlingly good native-grape wines (grape-jelly flavor and all) and delicious wines from strawberries, raspberries and other Huber-grown fruit.
It's a simple matter of heritage, Huber says. The Hubers had been making wine since Simon Huber's time, and when small-farm wineries started appearing around the country in the early 1970s, his father Gerald and Uncle Carl saw an opportunity. With customers flocking from Louisville to their then-new U-pick operation, the Hubers reasoned that a winery would be another attraction, based on something they knew how to do and enjoyed. They took winemaking classes at Ohio State University and converted the dairy barn that their parents had built in 1938 into a winery and tasting room.
At first they bought every kind of grape they could get from anyone who had grapes to sell, making a variety of wines to find out what styles their customers would prefer. Based on sales experience, they eventually planted their own vineyards and settled into their current array of dry, semisweet and sweet wines made from French hybrid and native grapes and other fruits, all made from fruit grown on the Hubers' own sprawling, 600-acre farm. (In another year or two, they'll even be aging their wines in barrels made from white oak trees that grow on the north end of the farm.)
Now they have 35 acres of vineyards that produced 19,000 gallons of wine last year, a figure that, weather cooperating, will increase to 24,000 gallons in 1998, a volume comparable to some well-known California producers. Huber wines are sold at the winery and at selected wine stores in Southern Indiana and, soon, in Louisville.
You'll find no Huber Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, though. With good California varietals selling for $8 to $10, it wouldn't pay to try to compete on that turf. Rather, Huber says, "We're trying to make a real Midwestern wine, make good wines that people can't get anywhere else."
Jerry and Marilyn Kushner, meanwhile, came by a different route to a similar conclusion. "We want to make a Kentucky product," Jerry Kushner says.
With no family wine tradition other than perhaps a taste of sweet kosher wine at Passover, Jerry got involved in wine through a friend at GE who grew grapes and made wine. Before long, he was smitten by the winemaking hobby, planting a vineyard in Larue County and learning as he went, every year making wine that pleased him a little more than the year before. Countering the conventional wisdom, he shuns French hybrids, taking on the laborious but potentially rewarding challenge of growing vinifera grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in a region and climate where few wineries are willing to take that risk.
The Kushners bought a house on rural Broad Run Road in 1983 and planted their first vines on the property the next year. Now they have 15 acres of vines there and along a rolling ridge line on another farm nearby, where they hope to convert a 100-year-old farmhouse into a tasting room and event facility soon.
IF YOU GO|
19816 Huber Road
Starlight, Ind. 47106
Take I-64 west from Louisville across the Sherman Minton Bridge and through New Albany to the U.S. 150 exit (Greenville-Paoli). From there the route to Huber Winery, about 10 miles, is very well marked by green-and-white signs.
The winery is open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May-October and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. the rest of the year; it is closed Mondays from January through April. Wine tasting is available during daily operating hours, but only after noon on Sundays.
Broad Run Vineyards
10601 Broad Run Road
Louisville, Ky. 40299
Broad Run Road is in extreme southeastern Jefferson County. It can be reached from the Gene Snyder Freeway via either Bardstown Road or Billtown Road to Seatonville Road to Broad Run.
The winery's sales outlet is open for wine tastings and sales on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and by appointment, but it is advisable to call ahead, especially during the growing season, when the demands of the vineyard may take precedence.
Urged on by their friends and winemaking mentors, the Kushners went commercial with Broad Run Vineyards in 1992, selling their wines in the $8 to $12 range at the winery and at selected wine shops and restaurants.
It hasn't been an easy road. A record-breaking January snowstorm and freeze in 1994 killed their vines back to the roots, eliminating the entire crop; and two years later, a Derby Eve hailstorm knocked all the buds off their vines, so there was no harvest again that year.
That's only a sample of the reality that running a vineyard and winery -- like any other kind of farming -- is hard and sometimes back-breaking work.
Jerry Kushner puts in year-round labor in the vineyard, from the cold winter months when he mounds up earth around the vines to protect them from winter freezes, to spring, when the vines demand constant attention, which ranges from planting to pruning to weed and pest control. Autumn brings the harvest, and is the only time of year that Broad Run "actually becomes a winery," Kushner says. That's when he crushes the grapes into juice, adds yeast to begin fermenting, and carefully nurtures the wine-to-be as it ages in tanks and then bottles until it's time for it to be sold. Without the help of what Marilyn Kushner calls "a very energetic son-in-law" and lots of friends, not to mention a stream of hard-working migrant farm workers, they couldn't get it all done, she says, adding that a big job of pasting labels on 7,000 bottles of the 1995 vintage was awaiting them during a rainy summer weekend.
That vintage, which has been maturing in bottles for three years, will go on sale this autumn. The 1997 wine is maturing in the Kushners' basement, and if the weather holds, the 1998 crop looks even better.
Broad Run's output remains tiny, perhaps 1,000 gallons a year, only about 5 percent of Huber's production. But the Kushners bring to their wines the same pride and craftsmanship. "We've found that we can grow a grape here as good as anywhere in the world," Jerry Kushner says.
Chardonnay, Kentucky: Shunning the hybrid grapes most Midwest wineries rely on, Broad Run Vineyards grows the real thing -- vitis vinifera -- the same grapes grown by the vintners of Europe.|
Huber Winery 1997 Indiana Seyval Blanc ($9.95). Very pale brass color, with nice citric aromas of grapefruit and lemon-lime. Fresh and crisp flavor, very tart, with a long and clean aftertaste. Could pass for a very good Sauvignon Blanc.
Huber Winery 1997 Indiana Vidal Blanc ($8.95). Delicious perfumed orange-blossom aroma and a ripe, fruity and slightly sweet flavor with good, crisp acidity providing balance.
Huber Winery 1996 Indiana Heritage ($14.95). Clear, bright reddish-purple color. Delicious raspberry and black-cherry aromas. Fresh tart-cherry fruit and a whiff of vanilla from the oak barrel. Clean and fresh.
Huber Winery Indiana 1995 Vintner's Reserve Heritage. Clear garnet color. Deep, delicious blackberry scent, and a big, ripe and full flavor, fruity and crisp, well-balanced and elegant, with astringent tannins indicating good aging potential. Made from two special barrels of Heritage plus just a taste of Cabernet Sauvignon, it's produced in very tiny quantities -- about 700 bottles altogether -- and will be sold this fall at a price to be determined; it will be substantially higher than the regular $14.95 Heritage. It will be worth it.
Huber Winery 1996 Indiana Generations ($11.95). Clear garnet color with a light berry scent. Soft, fresh-fruit flavor, consistent with the aroma, clean and just off-dry.
Huber Winery 1997 Indiana Vignoles ($9.95). Pale straw color. Aromatic pine, peach and mango aromas. Fresh-fruit sweetness and crisp acidity in balance.
Huber Winery non-vintage Indiana Starlite White ($8.95). The top-selling wine at Huber's, it's pale in color, boasting a pleasant peachy scent and a sweet, crisp flavor of fresh fruit juice.
Huber Winery non-vintage Indiana Niagara ($7.95). Using a native American grape, Niagara, rather than hybrids, this one shows the characteristic "grape jelly" aroma of the type. It's clean and fresh, though, and the flavor follows the scent, sweet and crisp as a bowl of fresh table grapes.
Hubery Winery non-vintage Indiana Catawba Rosé ($8.95). Another native grape, this one makes a stunning pink wine that's an attractive pale salmon color, with a grape-jelly scent enhanced by lovely spice and floral overtones. Sweet, juicy and grapey in flavor, it's remarkably good, one of the best native-grape wines I've ever tasted. The judges at the prestigious Great Lakes Wine Festival apparently agreed, awarding it a Gold Medal at their competition in June.
Huber Winery non-vintage Indiana Strawberry Wine ($9.95). Although fruit wines are not vintage-dated, Huber says this one is a 1998, picked at the beginning of the farm's strawberry harvest and literally bottled and on sale while the berries were still coming in. It's a delicious fruit wine, clear reddish-amber in color and showing a perfect ripe-strawberry aroma, sweet and tart with an intense strawberry flavor and just a spritz of carbonation. This wine is sold only in the year it's produced, kept in the tank for freshness, with only a three-month supply bottled at one time.
Huber Winery non-vintage Indiana Raspberry Wine ($9.95). Unlike strawberry wine, the raspberry product holds in the bottle as well as grape wine. This is the 1997 crop, and it's a delight, showing a transparent cherry-red in the glass and breathing a perfect scent of ripe berries. Sweet and tart, it captures the fresh raspberry flavor to perfection.
Huber Winery Indiana Autumn Frost Ice Wine ($24.95 for a 375 ml half-bottle). A rarity, this ice wine is made not by the traditional process of allowing grapes to freeze on the vine (a virtual impossibility in the Indiana climate) but by freezing them in a commercial freezer, then pressing out the concentrated syrupy juice before the fruit thaws. It is a clear straw color, with a subtle honey-and-orange-blossom aroma, and an intensely sweet, fruity flavor that almost overwhelms an underlying structure of acidity.
BROAD RUN WINES:
Broad Run Vineyards 1995 Jefferson County Kentucky Riesling. Pale greenish-gold. Nice citric and piney aromas, and a ripe, tart fresh-fruit flavor, very dry, with a slight bitter-almond quality in the aftertaste.
Broad Run Vineyards 1995 Jefferson County Kentucky Gewürztraminer. Pale brass color, with a light but pleasant peach aroma. Near-dry and tart, crisp and refreshing.
Broad Run Vineyards 1995 Jefferson County Kentucky Chardonnay. Clear pale gold, with a good crisp-apple scent and a full, creamy and ripe flavor. Devoid of the sweet oak and buttery flavors of California Chardonnay, its accent is quite French, but Kushner insists it's native Kentuckian.
Broad Run Vineyards 1993 Jefferson County Kentucky Cabernet Sauvignon. Clear dark-ruby color, amber at the edge. Pleasant mint and black-fruit aromas are accompanied by a characteristic "vegetal" quality very much like damp hay. The flavor is so fruity that it almost seems sweet, full of plums and raisins that may bespeak its warm-climate origins; but it dries out in the aftertaste, with damp-hay nuances and appropriately tart acidity.
Broad Run Vineyards 1995 Jefferson County Kentucky Foch. One of Kushner's few wines made from hybrid grapes, this one's impressive, with an inky dark color, almost black, and a pleasant raspberry aroma that persists after an initial hint of "rubber band" blows off. Full, juicy and jammy fruit flavors make this one a "chewy" blockbuster.
Broad Run Vineyards 1995 Jefferson County Kentucky Carmine. A very unusual grape, a modern cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignane, this wine does well in Kushner's hands. It's a very dark reddish-purple in color, with mint and brooding black-fruit aromas and a full-bodied fruit flavor with pleasant hints of fragrant black pepper. A very high level of acidity makes it a particularly good match with food, if a bit sour for sipping alone.
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