Florida’s 4 Finest Wineries

Wine traditionalists beware. These wineries are refreshingly atypical.
By: Rachel Fayne

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Muscadine grapes might as well be sweet, sweet currency in Florida. Oenophiles will be surprised to learn that in the state recognized for retirees, a general lack of inclement weather, and no shortage of vacation destinations, muscadines are king. These saccharine grapes native to the state are only 1 reason why the wineries of Florida are both refreshingly atypical and visit-worthy.

Wine traditionalists beware. Those diehard wine enthusiasts expecting a full-bodied cabernet or a traditional Italian port and an easy chair to drink it in might be surprised. Anticipate something more modern and a little left of the norm. Expect avocado wine made from the oil’s separation during fermentation. Don’t question the sweet sting of the sparkling citrus varieties as they hit your tongue. This isn’t the place for conventional rule. This is Florida, where wine can be fruit-inspired, grown on the vine, or even personalized. And these 4 wineries are some of the state's finest.
Perhaps the most sprawling of all Florida wineries, Lakeridge may also be one of the state's busiest. Inside the lodge where tours take place, wines are being tasted on each side of the massive horseshoe shaped oaken bar, and cases of jostling bottles are being carefully loaded onto carts in the adjacent shop. Lakeridge is one of the more distinctive Florida wineries in that there are no exotic fruit-based wines that come from these grounds -- only grape-based booze here. Muscadines are also prevalent, and can be found in a few of the 12 wines produced at Lakeridge. The winery clearly knows its audience; tastings and tours are always free for visitors. And as any connoisseur of alcoholic beverages can tell you, free wine is fine wine.
Checking out its Spanish moss-lined waterfall, tiki huts and tasting tables studded with the same kind of wooden barrels in which their wine is stored, Schnebly looks every bit the quintessential Florida winery. These premises are also a muscadine-free zone; you won’t find any grapes on these grounds. Mango, lychee, avocado and passion fruit rule at this exotic fruits-only vineyard. Who knew there was more than 1 variety of avocado-based wine? Schnebly did. Unique and specialty wines are what this winery does best; tastings are offered daily.
If the typical Florida winery boasts manicured acres of unusual ripening fruit varieties and outdoor seating filled with customers clinking glasses, perhaps The Gilded Grape belongs elsewhere. This inconspicuous storefront in a Punta Gorda strip mall offers something very specific that most other Florida wineries don’t: individualized wine and the opportunity to make it yourself. The wine is crafted from juice, and all fruit juices that come through these doors are imported from out of state, mainly California. That means that winery visitors are free to choose from a wide variety of grapes and even exotic fruits when deciding on a wine mix. The traditional white merlot, deep orange chocolate port and the seasonally inspired tangerine lemon wine are some varieties that keep buyers coming back. Any wine lover wishing to create her own wine and who has 2 months to spare while the creation ferments might enjoy a visit to this less-than conventional winery.
Maybe the most traditional of the Florida wineries, Rosa Fiorelli has the acreage for grape growing and commitment to quality that all tasting dreams are made of, but with some Americana thrown in. Located in a barn within the small Central Florida town of Bradenton, local painters sometimes hold classes within the scenic green grass on the property, which overlooks acres of budding muscadine-filled vines. You won’t find any unusual fruit inspirations here; dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines fermented from grapes are what give this vineyard perhaps its best quality: wine-scented air.

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