Exploring Florida wines at Keel and Curley
Looking for a way to get out of Florida’s heat? A visit to the Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City could be your next great distraction.
Located off of Interstate 4 in Central Florida’s Plant City (not far from Dinosaur World) the winery is making numerous efforts to attract visitors to try its blueberry wines, Strawberry Riesling, and Wild Berry Pinot Noir, among other flavors.
To answer the question surely in your mind–How do “wines” and “Florida” end up in the same sentence?–Florida actually ranked fifth in the United States for wine production in 2008. Although the volume isn’t close to that in well-known winemaking states like California, the wineries that are here serve a growing niche market, especially as the popularity of sweet wines increases.
Come on Down and Wine a Bit
During a recent Saturday afternoon visit, 20 or 30 visitors–bachelorette parties, middle-aged patrons who seemed happy to be drinking, and the occasional family with children–relaxed in the Keel & Curley tasting room and shop. As staff deftly managed several people at once for tastings, visitors chatted about the wine flavors. One described Wild Berry Pinot Noir as “Kool-Aid for adults.” Visitors diligently marked off their tasting cards to indicate the wines they liked the best and would plan to purchase.
For the most part, Keel & Curley features wines that showcase the sweeter varieties Florida is known for–sweet blueberry, Black Raspberry Merlot, the newer Sweet Blackberry, and Monica’s Florida Frost Wine. However, if you prefer a drier variety, the winery also has dry and semi-dry blueberry wines.
A good deal of Florida wines are made from muscadine grapes, but not those at Keel & Curley, although they commonly use other kinds of fruits. For some of the products, like Wild Berry Pinot Noir, winemakers blend the original wine type with a small percentage of fruit juice.
Visitors can also get a winery tour on the weekends. (Ten bucks covers your tasting and tour.) After a cattle-car like ride takes you to the winemaking area, tour guides like Sam Miller will show you around the bottling areas and explain the wine processing. You’ll also get a scenic view of the winery’s fields on your way to the winemaking area.
Keel & Curley Winery got started by accident in 2003 when owner Joe Keel, a blueberry farmer, had an overabundance of blueberries. He bought a homemade wine kit and experimented until he got tasty results. Now, just nearly 10 years later, the company sold 400,000 bottles in 2011, a jump from 350,000 bottles in 2010, said Miller. Don’t be surprised if you hear Keel & Curley’s name more often in the future. In addition to extensive social media promotion, the winery is also increasing its distribution. The wines can be found at a number of Publix stores, Wal-Marts near Plant City, and even some Target stores, says facility and marketing manager Clay Keel. (As a side note, you can get the wine at a lower price at one of the non-winery locations.)
Keel & Curley also hosts weekend music concerts, weddings, and festivals such as the Blueberries, Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival on Oct. 27.To whet your palate, here’s a list of wines you can taste at Keel & Curley. Everyone’s got different tastes, but we particularly enjoyed the popular Wild Berry Pinot Noir and the Strawberry Riesling: Dry Blueberry, Semi-Dry Blueberry, Sweet Blueberry, Dry Blackberry, Sweet Blackberry, Black Raspberry Merlot, Wild Berry Pinot Noir, Key Lime Sauvignon Blanc, Tangerine Zinfandel, Peach Chardonnay, Strawberry Riesling, and Monica’s Florida Frost.
And if you still need to get your drink on even after enjoying the wines, Keel & Curley also sells a number of drink kits, such as Margarita Wine Freeze Kit and Strawberry Daquiri Wine Freeze Kit, among other flavors…