Giving Some Respect to Florida Wines
“Florida wines…those are with those muscadine grapes,” my friend harumphed to me before I moved to Florida. I had mentioned the surprising number of wineries in Florida–over 30 in total. Alas, my friend and I lived not far from Virginia wine country, so the prospect of good wine coming out of Florida seemed strange.
With Florida’s well known heat and flat geography, it may surprise you to know that Florida has a burgeoning wine business. And no, it’s not all Outrageous Orange Wine or Mango Wine or other novelties (although some producers do go heavy on the citrus). Muscadine grapes are the base for many wines made in Florida. Although muscadine grape-based wines do tend to be be sweeter–which pleases some palates but not all–wineries have gotten creative with genetically engineered grape varieties, enabling dry and semi-sweet varieties as well.
In the interest of research for Florida Culture (hard work but someone has to do it), here are some facts about Florida wine learned from visits to Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine, Tarpon Springs Castle Winery in Tarpon Springs, and Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City:
1. Florida ranks fifth in the United States for the amount of wine produced. In 2008, its wineries produced 6.6 million liters of wine.
2. The first American wine was thought to have been made in Florida in the 1560s using the area’s native muscadine grapes. This was made many years before California’s winemaking began. Although European explorers tried to grow other grape types from their native countries, none could withstand the heat of Florida like the muscadine grape.
3. Muscadine grapes have more antioxidants than any other kind of grapes and berries. You can buy sweet-tasting muscadine grape juice at some of the Florida wineries.
4. Florida’s largest winery, Lakeridge Winery, grows its muscadine grapes and genetically-engineered grapes on nearly 700 acres both in Clermont and in the Panhandle of the state. The winery produces 1.5 million bottles a year, 25,000 bottles a day, and its Clermont-based warehouse stores 600,000 bottles at a time. San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine is owned by Lakeridge Winery. Lakeridge Winery has a current selection of more than 10 wines that range from a dry cuvee noir reserve (similar to a merlot) to a richly sweet Proprietor’s Reserve (a dessert wine), to its best sellers, the Southern Red and Southern White, which are both sweeter.
A drive to Lakeridge Winery will take you through rolling hills, a shocking sight in a state known for its flatness.
5. Some wineries capitalize on the Florida fruity associations. For example, Keel and Curley Winery has a Strawberry Fusion, Strawberry Riesling, Key West Key Lime, Sweet Blueberry, Wild Berry Fusion, Mango Citrus, and Dry Blueberry, among other fruity types. The winery was founded in 2003 by Joe Keel after Keel wanted to make good use of leftover blueberries from his crop. Florida Orange Groves Winery in St. Petersburg features not only fruit-based wines but also vegetable-based wines (specifically, carrots and tomatoes). And places like St. Armands Gifts & Winery in Sarasota feature citrus wines and exotic combinations like orange and coffee (which, surprisingly, tastes like chocolate and is very good).
6. The state’s wineries hold special events, such as grape stomping harvest festivals, music performances, and car shows.