Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
The Florida wine industry has been around since the first European settlers put out their welcome mats, and that's been quite a long time. The Marquis de Lafayette owned vineyards near Tallahassee and tried to make a go of being a winemaker, but the history goes back way beyond that.
In 1562, two years before William Shakespeare was born, French Huguenots settled in an area near what is today Jacksonville and found grapes growing wild and in abundance. They soon discovered that these grapes made delicious wine and quick as you could say Vitis rotundifolia, the first commercial wineries were established in America.
Fast forward about 450 years and today you'll find there are over 34 wineries located throughout the state. Some are major producers that ship wine all over the country and some are tiny, family-run businesses that sell small amounts of wine to local customers; but they all have one thing in common - a passion for the grape.
The grape, in this case, is a hearty native variety called Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia). Muscadine grapes grow only in southern climates and are extremely resistant to the fungi and pests that can kill the European varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot. Muscadine grapes have been found to be high in the antioxidant Resveratrol and include varieties called Carlos, Noble and Magnolia. These grapes are, by nature, sweeter than European varieties and the wines produced are generally sweeter as well.
In Northwest Florida there are eight wineries producing and selling Florida wine. They range in production capacity from 1,000 gallons to 75,000 gallons. Three of these wineries are located on the beach, giving sunbathers a different kind of tourist attraction to enjoy in between slathering on sunscreen.
All of the wineries offer wine tasting of their wines which include Carlos, Noble, Magnolia and Conquistador, a Florida hybrid bunch grape, as well as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some have fortified wines like port and sherry, some have sparkling wine and some have fruit wines like blueberry wine, blackberry wine, even mango, key lime and grapefruit wines (think Sauvignon Blanc goes tropical). Most of them have gift shops that sell wine and wine accessories and several of them offer Florida wine gift baskets for special occasions or just for fun.
Yellow River Vineyards in Crestview, Okaloosa County
Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery in DeFuniak Springs, Walton County
Emerald Coast Winery in Miramar Beach, Walton County
Old Oaks Vineyard in Bonifay, Holmes County
Three Oaks Winery in Vernon, Washington County
Panama City Beach Winery in Panama City Beach, Bay County
SeaBreeze Winery in Panama City Beach, Bay County
Monticello Vineyards & Winery in Monticello, Jefferson County
I have to admit, I love visiting wineries, sampling the wines and talking to the winemakers. I don’t actually want to make wine myself – it’s hard work – but I love to hear about the process and taste the results.
In my first wine book, I wrote about the North Carolina wine industry in “Carolina Wine County, The Complete Guide.” At that time, the industry was just re-emerging from a long sleep that included Prohibition and other government regulation. Today there are over 100 wineries in North Carolina with more being added each year, a testament to the love of the grape.
Although the Florida wine industry has been slower to grow, a lot of the research that has helped catapult other states into vino economics has occurred in the agricultural sciences departments at both the University of Florida and Florida State University. Over the years, many hybrid grape varieties have been developed in these labs along with research into more productive vineyard methods.
With so much happening in the wine industry, and being a self-proclaimed wino, it was inevitable that I should write another book.
So, it's here, the "Northwest Florida Wine Tour.” available in both a print version and as an e-book so that wine travelers can download it to their laptops, smart phones and other devices and have the information with them on the go. Click on the link above to read more about it and to purchase a copy if you like.
The book is a complete travel guide featuring interviews with the winemakers and owners, complete wine lists for each winery, places to stay, fun places to eat, things to do, state parks, historical sites, wine festivals and more. You can take the tour or create your own mini-vacation.
So, are you ready to taste some Florida wine?
I say, wine not?