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In Vino Veritas

A look at Central Florida’s winemakers and producers.

Central Florida may not be a revered wine region, but that doesn’t mean that our local winemakers aren’t bringing anything to the glass. In fact, it may be because the Sunshine State is not known for its vino that wine producers here get to have a little more fun including using nontraditional fruit (blueberries!) and repping our own homegrown native muscadine grape. That’s not to say we don’t have anything to offer to cabernet lovers or sauvignon blanc stalwarts, as some winemakers in the state are trucking in these berries so they can ferment classic varietals.

Orlando Family Magazine took a look at the producers to be found within our metro region to see what you should be tasting. We also went the extra mile (literally) to find just a few more bottles that are worth a short car ride. Whether you’re a oenophile or a newbie, grab a glass and take a sip; there’s a lot to take in.

Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
Set on a 127-acre estate of rolling countryside, this 35,000-square-foot Spanish-style winery includes an extensive tasting room, a distribution warehouse and sparkling wine caves that hold over 18,000 bottles. The winery overlooks more than 80 acres of planted vineyards where the producer’s signature muscadine grapes are grown. Since opening its doors in 1989, LakeRidge has been a leader in the production of muscadine and has won several awards along the way for its knockout bottles of vino.

Standout wines: The top-selling wines here are the Southern Red and Southern White. The red finishes smooth and sweet, with intense fruit flavors and aromas of blueberries, blackberries and cherries. While the white is refreshing, light-bodied, tinged with sweetness and packed with fruit characters of pineapple, melons and crushed roses.
Varietals: muscadine, cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, Chablis, chardonnay, pinot grigio
Tastings available: Yes
Events: The vineyard hosts 12 annual festivals a year, each with a different theme. Complimentary tours and wine tastings are conducted seven days a week.

Hutchinson Farm Winery
John and Sherry Hutchinson had already been making their own wine when they both decided to leave the health care field behind nearly a decade ago. Since then, the couple has turned their passion for vino into a burgeoning vineyard with a noticeable country vibe in Apopka. Grabbing a bottle (or two) and heading out to the porch overlooking the vineyard is idyllic, but make sure to soak up all that John and Sherry have to offer as their friendly interaction is part of the allure.

Standout wines: The seasonal Blue Darter Blueberry is made with blueberries from nearby Ocoee and is vibrant without being overpowering while their crisp Rosé is something we could drink outside while soaking up the rays on any picturesque day.
Varietals: muscadine, blueberry, chardonnay, zinfandel, other vitis vinifera when available
Tastings available: Yes

Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens
Already an established wine producer in northern Central Florida, Island Grove opened up its doors in Kissimmee in the fall of 2017. And the response has been favorable, with locals flocking to the two-floor, 13,000-square-foot winery to get their chance to taste Island Grove’s assortment of lauded fruit wines that range from dry and distinguished to satisfyingly sweet.

Standout wines: It’s all about the fruit flavors here, so be sure to sample both the Kinda Dry and the Sorta Sweet options, but don’t overlook the other fruited delights such as the Backporch Peach or the Crisp Green Apple.
Varietals: all fruit blends: strawberry-riesling, raspberry-zinfandel, blueberry-muscato, etc.
Events: The winery regularly hosts monthly events like special tastings and food pairings as well as family fun outings like their annual Halloween costume party.

Quantum Leap Winery
Located in the heart of Orlando, this winery got its start in 2012 by reinventing the wine-to-market delivery process. Instead of buying bottles of wine to be sold in-store, the owner of Quantum Leap decided to bring large vessels of wine, made from sustainably grown grapes, to its production facility to store, blend, finish and package a final product. The result is reds, whites and rosés that are of the highest quality made with grapes from some of the most revered growing regions including Paso Robles and Willamette Valley.

Standout wines: Kaley’s Rescue Red is the top seller here. A blend of mostly merlot, malbec and tempranillo, this red offers tobacco leaf, leather and cracked pepper on the nose and cherry compote, black raspberry preserves among gritty tannins on the palate. A portion of the proceeds from the purchase of this wine goes to the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.
Varietals: cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, pinot noir, petit verdot, aglianico, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, grüner veltliner, red and white blends
Tastings available: Yes
Events: While occasionally hosting events like a wine, cheese, chocolate pairing class, the winery partners with Winter Park’s Writer’s Block Bookstore for its Wine, Wisdom and Words series that brings authors to the winery to do book signings and mingle with guests.

Vino Ventures
10 other wineries that are worth the trip

Aspirations Winery, Clearwater
The husband-and-wife duo behind this popular winery produce more than 25 wines each year— ranging from fruity to dry reds and whites—and even allow guests to custom design their own labels.

San Sebastian Winery, St. Augustine
This winery opened in 1966 and has produced several award-winning bottles in its 18,000-square-foot production facility.

Strong Tower Vineyard and Winery, Spring Hill
Friday evenings are a great time to visit, when hours are extended until 10 p.m. and the outdoor seating overlooking the vineyard is full of fellow oenophiles.

Florida Orange Groves Winery, St. Petersburg
Citrus fruits give the wines here a distinctively tropical taste and the knowledgeable—not to mention personable—staff makes each visit a pleasant experience.

Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, Duette
The folks at Bunker Hill believe a glass of wine should be full of flavor, not full of additives. That
is why they proudly produce only unfiltered wines that spend at least a year being cared for before they are ready for consumption.

Fiorelli Winery, Bradenton
The only grape winery and vineyard along the state’s southwestern Gulf Coast, Fiorelli not only makes a quality product, it also offers everything from murder mystery dinner events to a
private room for overnight guests.

Summer Crush Vineyard and Winery, Fort Pierce
This space is as laid back as the surf culture that inspired it and with a large outdoor patio that often features live music, it’s the perfect place to hang loose.

Flager Beachfront Winery, Flager Beach
Its location along the water give this winery all the ambience you need to enjoy a glass of chardonnay paired with a hand-selected cheese plate.

Bluefield Estates Winery, Gainesville
Good things come in small packages and that rings true at this quaint, remotely situated vineyard known for its fusion wines that are vibrant and refreshingly crisp.

True Blue Winery, Davenport
While the wines may be the main attraction here, a stellar food menu that includes a variety of brick oven pizzas makes it a must-visit.

A Closer Look at the Muscadine Grape
Although Florida wineries may use grapes grown all over the world, those that source their berries right here in the Sunshine State are likely to use the native muscadine grape.

• Muscadine grapes are used to produce both red and white wines.
• Muscadine grapes can grow to be as large as golf balls.
• Florida is the birthplace of American wine as French Huguenots who settled North America around 1562 made wine from the abundant wild muscadine grapes they found growing near present-day Jacksonville.
• In general, muscadine wines are fruity, full of character and richly sweet.

Sources: LakeRidge Winery & Vineyard and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s October 2019 issue.