Meet the Team

John Barber and Barb Hokel

Their first official “date” was in the fall of 1994 at The Wine Experience – a place where food and wines were paired for a wonderful evening of good tastes and many new friends. Their interest in wines grew with their relationship. In 2004, they built their house outside of Elkhart. It was originally found that the area was called Ottawa.

John reigns from the Detroit, Michigan area originally. He has resided in Iowa since 1979 and was in civil engineering until 2014 when the wine business took over his soul.

Barb is an Ankeny native and really just loves wine. Her other career is in commercial real estate, but her real love is in the wine business.

Ottawa Vineyards, LLC was established in 2012 and manages three separate vineyards in northeast Polk County, Iowa. The vineyards grow grape varietals of Marquette, Frontenac, and more. At harvest, other grape varietals are purchased from local vintners in order to fulfill the juice needs for the wines to be created for that year.

Josh Ellenberg
Chief Winemaker

Born and raised in North Carolina until he was 13, Josh and his parents moved to Mount Pleasant Iowa to be closer to his grandparents. Josh finished high school there, then moved to Iowa City to attend culinary arts school. While in Iowa City, he met Allie Barber. Allie was from Ankeny and fortunate to land a job there, moving back to Ankeny, closer to where her family lives. Josh came with her. Having had experience in culinary arts as well as a nose for science, biology, and horticulture, Josh was a great fit to be the first employee of The Cellar Winery.

From pruning vines to learning what diseases cause what, to determining what solutions to use for better yield, to weeding the vineyards, and finally harvesting and processing the grapes, Josh helped and learned a lot in the first year. He has already become the chief “Winemaker” for The Cellar.


The Story of The Cellar

When they realized opportunity was knocking and kept reappearing in different scenarios, Barb and John decided that it was time to "answer the door" and take the giant leap of faith!

Over the years of their relationship, they had always had a special passion for wine. Many dates and trips were related to the various wines in which they were in pursuit. "When our interests in wines, grapes, and vineyards began to escalate, we discovered a nearby vineyard that was planned to be bulldozed into the ground. We introduced ourselves to the owners and made a deal to manage and revitalize the vineyards for the beautiful aesthetics as well as to harvest and sell the grapes. With the help of the vineyard owners and many of our friends, we brought the vineyard back to life and began our first vineyard management business at Arbor Creek Vineyards near Farrar, Iowa." The official business name was established as Ottawa Vineyards, LLC. The name “Ottawa” was chosen because the current location of John and Barb's house sits on the same geographical section of land that was the town of "Ottawa". "Ottawa" was eventually renamed “Elkhart” and moved two miles west in 1902.

That first chapter of their new adventure started in 2011. In the spring of 2012, mostly due to their love for dry red wines, John and Barb planted 103 Marquette vines in their own back yard, with the intention of just being back yard wine makers. Of those grapes, in 2013, approximately 2 car-boys (or 10 gallons) of wine was produced. That was enough juice for a couple cases of their own home made wine. In 2014, the vines were in full production, and their backyard operation increased, with a harvest of approximately 1.5 tons of grapes. About 150 gallons of wine was pressed from the grapes and they gave away several cases of this wine to friends and relatives over the year.

The Cellar Winery at White Oak was established in March 2015, when the opportunity once again arose to take over the vineyards and wine producing operation at White Oak. The timing was right this time and they decided to jump in with both feet! It took over a year to get the grape production revitalized and transitioned into wine, but the wines have been bottled and into retail distribution since May 2016.

At The Cellar, we invite you to stop in and taste the wines. Enjoy a bottle at your own table, or outside if the weather is permitting. We welcome you join us at any of our events and let us know what you think. We want you to be comfortable, relaxed, and have an enjoyable experience. Then we would like to see you again!