Charming Vines – A Guide to Vineyards and Wineries in Northeast Florida

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When most people think of wine making regions, they think of France and California. However, with the popularity of wine increasing, production has spread to the four corners of the earth. Although wine was first produced in what is now Florida over 300 years ago, Florida wine production only relatively recently increased in volume with the advent of disease resistant varietals. Florida’s wine consumption and production continues to grow as more people taste and appreciate good wines produced from locally grown fruit. Northeast Florida is home to several charming vineyards and wineries. If you are in the vicinity, don’t pass up the chance to visit San Sebastian Winery, Tangled Oaks Vineyard, Sirvent’s Farm and Vineyard, and Seahorse Ranch and Vineyard, all in northeast Florida. Stop in, take a tour, and sample wines made from Florida grapes, berries, and other fruits. Talk to the owners and you may even be able to get some tips, plants, and kits to use in making your own wine at home.

San Sebastian Winery, 157 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida is the largest of the wineries in northeast Florida and by far has the most vines in production, produces the most different varieties of wine and the most bottles of wine per year (close to 1 million bottles), and has won the most awards for wine quality. It is located in an old East Coast Railway building not far from the historic district of St. Augustine. San Sebastian offers wine tastings every day, even on Sunday, and has an upstairs Wine, Jazz, and Blues Bar, and gift shop where it sells wine baskets. San Sebastian’s products are available for purchase online. Visiting the tasting room is a fun experience, but San Sebastian’s main 80-acre vineyard is located in Clermont, so the tour won’t include a trip through the rows of growing grapes. Most of their wines, including Blanc De Fleur, and Rosa are, like most Florida wines, sweet in taste. However, don’t miss their Reserva, a dry white wine, and Blanc Du Bios, which has a touch of spice.

In the small town of Grandin is Tangled Oaks Vineyard. Tangled Oaks is a small, family-owned vineyard. David DaCasto, Sr., manages the business end of things and David Jr. runs the winery. Tangled Oaks has a relaxed atmosphere and is closed on Sunday and Monday, but open for tastings and retail sales Tuesday to Friday from noon to 6pm and on Saturday from 10am to 6pm. Browse the shop filled with local and other jewelry, fine art, wine themed glasses and tablewear, and clothing. My favorite is the t-shirt with cartoon bears saying “I told you, it’s white with fishermen and red with hunters.” Then head to the tasting counter and don’t miss Carlos, a semi-sweet wine made from Florida Muscadine grapes and Spring Blush, another Muscadine creation that is similar to a white zinfandel. If you’ve never liked red wine because it is too dry for your tastes, check out Noble Red, and it will change your mind. Tangled Oaks small vineyard is out back but they may not have a huge amount of time to walk you about and chat about grape growing, because Tangled Oaks does quite a business, especially on weekends.

Not far from Grandin is a very sleepy little town called Florahome. Half-way up beautiful Coral Farms Road is Sirvent’s Farm and Vineyard. If you thought Tangled Oaks had a relaxed air, Sirvent’s is positively laid-back. No big signs or bright lights here. Owner John Sirvent, a crusty 70+ year old, has been growing wine grapes for decades and routinely shares his insights with others wanting to grow their own grapes or make their own wine. He’ll pull you up a chair and let you sample peach or blueberry wine too. He and his wife will supply you with plants to grow white or red grape varietals, planting and growing instructions, and winemaking kits and tips. The Sirvents also have onsite beehives, both to ensure proper polination of the grapes and to produce raw, local honey. They sell it by the jar and it’s extremely tasty. Don’t forget to ask to meet Smokey the guard donkey while you’re there.

Continue up the rest of Coral Farms Road and turn onto Tinsley where you’ll find Florahome’s second vineyard, Seahorse Ranch and Vineyard. Seahorse Ranch and Vineyard is a premium natural horsemanship boarding facility and retreat. Its main business is horse boarding, horse camping, and event hosting. Owners Steve and Gayle Holm planted a portion of the ranch in grapes about three years ago. It takes about that long for the vines to produce sufficient quantity and quality grapes for wine production. This year they will harvest in August and make their first wines. Seahorse Ranch and Vineyard does not plan to commercially market wine, but rather will hope to share what they learn with ranch guests and other interested visitors. Check out the charming vintage birdhouses mounted atop the vineyard posts. Each is unique, resembling an old time soda shop, a big cowboy boot, and even the famed red barn with the black roof that says “See Rock City.” And of course, meet the ponies who are always glad to see visitors, especially if they come bearing apples. On Saturday, September 23, 2010, Seahorse Ranch and Vineyard will host a seminar called “Winemaking 101” where guests can stop by to taste Florida wines and learn to make their own wine.

Northeast Florida is home to several charming wineries and vineyards ranging from large, long established, sophisticated commercial production wineries to small, family-owned vineyards. If you’re traveling in or near the area, don’t miss the chance to take a tour and get some samples. It will make for a rewarding afternoon or weekend excursion.

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Source by Mallory Holm