Howard and Jessica Mozeico work closely as a father-daughter team to produce Pinot Noir for their small Oregon winery. ##Photo Provided

Honoring Howard

Et Fille owner tragically killed, greatly missed

By Tamara Belgard

Ask anyone who knew Et Fille’s co-owner/co-winemaker Howard Mozeico, and they’ll regale you with heartfelt stories and mention his infectious laugh. Although Howard died tragically in a tractor accident on April 13, devastating his family and stunning the wine community, his commitment to family, friends and Oregon wine lives on, and his sense of humor and zest for life stays with many.

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Their brand, Et Fille, means “and daughter” in French. ##Photo by John Valls

Howard was born in The Bronx, Jan. 27, 1947, although he lived his last 39 years in Oregon. He earned a Bachelor of Science from City University in New York, and a master’s in computer science from the University of Hawaii.

Over the years, his career took a number of different turns; he worked as a hot dog vendor at Yankee Stadium, a journeyman carpenter, a software engineer, a software manager and a co-owner of a tiny electronics company, before ultimately following his passion for wine.

His love for wine was sparked by a bottle of Burgundy he shared with his wife, Mona, on their first wedding anniversary. That bottle is ultimately what set Howard on his path to Pinot Noir. He began making wine in his garage as a hobby and then as a diversion from his startup business. Little did he know it would become his passion and, years later, his mission.

“My dad was passionate about two main aspects of the Oregon wine industry,” explained Howard’s only child, Jessica Mozeico. “First, he believed our valley’s soil types create very different profiles of Pinot Noir, and he was constantly exploring that.”

Second, Mozeico was extremely grateful for the sense of community he felt within the Oregon wine industry.

“Though he was not one of the early pioneers, he benefited from the advice, perspective, mentorship and contributions of many in the wine community who came before him,” she continued. “He was grateful for loads of winemaking advice from Lynn Penner-Ash and encouragement to ‘go pro’ from Bill Hatcher and Debra Turner Hatcher. As a result, he tried to pay it forward by seeking out newer winemakers and lending them his experience and input. This is a major part of what makes the Oregon wine community so unique, and he was so appreciative of it.”

In Jessica’s gracious and grateful words, “I have never seen our community more supportive than they have been to me over the past few weeks. So many winemakers have stepped up to lend help during this difficult time. My dad would have been awestruck and humbled by this.”

Howard loved the people Et Fille did business with and was fueled by those connections. From vineyard owners to management company suppliers to their service providers and customers, he formed deep connections with everyone. Jessica says he was always so excited to chat with people, and those conversations were usually punctuated by his uproarious laugh, a few pranks, comments about the New York Yankees or music, and showing photos of his granddaughter.

Jessica recalls warm memories with her father driving around on vineyard visits before harvest. Their conversations ran from deep to hilarious, with music blaring, windows open and lunch stops in Amity, at Martha’s Tacos in Lafayette or at the Dundee Bistro.

Howard was many things, but at his heart, he was a family man.

“One cannot think about Howard without thinking about his wife, Mona, daughter, Jessica, and now his granddaughter, Gabriella,” said Arthur Kalita of Kalita Vineyard. “Even though we have been living 3,000 miles apart since we met, the family has often invited us to dinners in their home introducing us New Yorkers to other local growers. Part of the bond may have been that we also have only one daughter, but whatever it was, Howard’s graciousness and the whole Mozeico family is without parallel.”

Howard impressed many people in the Oregon wine industry, including Michael Bathurst of Vin De Garde, a wine import and distribution company based in Portland.

“Howard was one of those folks you could never get enough of,” said Bathhurst. “He was a walking ray of sunshine whenever he came to visit. His laugh made you laugh. The twinkle in his eye when talking about his granddaughter made you jealous. While, we will all miss him; the memories of his wit, intelligence, wine and laugh will always bring joy.”

Mike Green of Deux Vert Vineyard first met Howard 10 years ago at a St. Patrick’s Day get-together at Dick and Betty O’Brien, founders of Elton Vineyards.

“His first comment to me was, ‘You’re the weird guy growing Tempranillo in Yamhill,’” said Green. “That sparked a great conversation about grapes and viticulture, resulting in Howard visiting the vineyard and contracting to buy Viognier and Pinot. Et Fille has been making wine from our vineyard ever since.”

“Both of us believed in [cultivating] relationships,” continued Green. “Many in the industry ‘talk it,’ but Howard ‘walked it.’ In both good times and bad, he stood by you. When the industry took a down-turn, you could count on Howard to stand fast.” 

Industry member Leigh Brown recalls, “I worked in the cellar for Et Fille for four years, and Howard was incredibly generous with his knowledge, time, home and friendship. He was not only my mentor but also such a dear friend to me. I called him my Oregon dad because I often came to him for advice on all sorts of matters.

“I loved being a part of a small team that worked so hard to make wines that were unique and reflective of the diverse soils of Oregon, which was of great interest to him,” Brown explained. “He loved educating people on wine and yet was eager to learn more from others. Anyone could tell you he had one of the best laughs; I’m lucky I got to hear it as often as I did.” 

Christian DeBenedetti, owner of Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg, also spoke highly of Howard, yet reflected on his untimely death. “Howard sold me our first four barrels and was a perfect gentleman,” DeBenedetti recalled. “It’s a sad reminder that there are very real hazards to life and limb, even in the elegant pursuit of winemaking.” 

Immediately after her father’s death, Jessica wasn’t sure the winery could, should go on without him.

“I mean, the name means “and Daughter,” implying the importance of the father. However, it quickly became clear to me that I have the honor, responsibility and privilege of carrying Et Fille forward in exactly the vision that we had together.

“Our winemaking objectives will likely remain the same,” Jessica continued. “I will have to shift our model a bit — there are some capabilities that I simply cannot replicate and will need to find another way — but I am determined to continue Et Fille in the legacy and vision my dad created.”

Tamara Belgard is a freelance writer who explores the Oregon wine scene from her home in S.W. Portland.

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