Last week Stoller Wine Group announced that Ben Howe has been named vice president of winemaking. With the move, Melissa Burr, who held the position previously, transitions to the role of founding winemaker.
Howe will now be responsible for overseeing Stoller Wine Group’s estimated 149,000-case annual production. Stoller Wine Group includes Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem, Chemistry, and History. History is co-owned by Burr. Howe will manage a team of winemakers that includes Chehalem Winemaker Katie Santora and Stoller winemakers Karl Weichold and Evan Rose.
“It’s a big team,” Howe says. “We’ve got a lot of projects and a lot of a lot of different things going on, but the whole concept is to be able to grow our brands to where they match up with our winemaking capacities.”
Howe was born and raised in Nebraska. He started out working as an electronics technician for Garmin in Kansas before subsequently moving over to VersaLogic Corporation in Eugene, Oregon in 2001. Working as a laboratory research assistant at Hewlett Packard in Corvallis, Howe heard about Oregon State University’s fermentation science program.
“I was looking for something different,” Howe says.
He attended the program from 2002 to 2006, receiving a bachelor of science. The program included training on both beer and wine fermentation.
After graduating, Howe did a research internship at E.&.J. Gallo in Modesto, California, one of the largest wineries in the U.S. There he performed numerous 20 gallon fermentations. In contrast, most of the tanks at Gallo were 100,000 to 600,000 gallons in volume.
“What we did was make wines that were included in trials or experiments,” Howe says. “They were looking at things from a very practical perspective.”
Winemaking suited Howe, so he continued on the path. He traveled to New Zealand to work a harvest at Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough.
Upon his return to the U.S. in 2007, Howe worked as a harvest intern at King Estate in Eugene, Oregon. After harvest ended, Howe was offered the opportunity to continue on at the winery. However, a friend from Gallo now working at Grover Vineyards in India asked if he would be interested in assisting at the winery.
“It’s not every day that an opportunity like that comes along,” Howe says.
While in India, Howe received a call from King Estate to see if he was interested in working on the winery’s North by Northwest brand. At the time, the wines were being made in Walla Walla. Additionally, Howe was feeling a long ways from home.
Howe returned to the U.S. and would spend almost seven years at King Estate, initially as enologist and working his way up to vice president of operations. Throughout his time at King Estate, however, he always took note of Stoller.
“You can’t help but see Stoller from the road,” Howe says.
He was always wondered why Stoller had such a large vineyard but wasn’t making more wine for itself. Intrigued by the winery, when an associate winemaking position came open at Stoller, Howe applied.
“Honestly, it was quite a step down for me at the time, but I threw my hat into the ring,” he says.
As Howe learned, Stoller had big plans to grow. This included building a larger winemaking facility and substantially increasing production.
“It was a really exciting opportunity,” Howe says.
Over the next eight years, as Stoller has grown, Howe has grown along with it. Six promotions later, Howe is now vice president of winemaking.
“Helping the winery scale is where I’ve helped the most,” Howe says.
Howe will continue to help Stoller grow and refine its operations. Production at Stoller is split across several facilities depending on the size of production of the individual wine.
“What I would like to do is to continue to improve the wines and push our experimentation so that we can get the best wines out of our own vineyard as well as the vineyards we get fruit from,” Howe says.
Burr, meanwhile, as founding winemaker will continue to champion Stoller with consumers and members of the trade in addition to maintaining the house style across the Stoller portfolio.
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