I enjoyed my recent visit to Tampa, Florida, especially standing on powdery white sand beaches in the warmth watching seas teaming with fish and skies full of birds diving down to catch them. “But they don’t make wine there,” was the response from people who know I like to travel to wine producing regions. Well, they do make wine but not from vitis vinifera, the European wine producing grape species.
Florida suffers from a malady called Pierce’s Disease which kills vinifera vines by cutting its sap flow. The disease is endemic throughout the southern United States and it is transmitted by insects, in particular the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. Cures and workarounds have been discovered for other vine illnesses but at the moment there is no protection against Pierce’s and it is potentially the most serious threat to winemaking in America. Agricultural shipments have brought the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter to California where millions of dollars are being spent trying to eradicate it.
In Florida the native Muscardine grape species appears immune but the grapes do not make palatable wines so the University of Florida has over many years been crossing and hybridising Muscardines to breed out undesirable flavours. Their successes are now being grown and vinified to make wines which are, unfortunately, at best fairly neutral.
There are around twenty wineries in Florida though many of these make fruit wines while others use wine grapes imported from out of state.
Lakeridge Winery, near to and north of Orlando, is a winery that would not be out of place anywhere in the world. The modern attractive building houses state of the art equipment and a barrel cellar with new French oak barrels. Its tasting room is large and welcomes large numbers of visitors who enjoy tasting a range of still and sparkling wines. Outside the slopes are covered in rows of neatly trellised Muscardine vines.
Most of Lakeridge’s wines are rather sweet. The sweetness adds depth and interest to the fairly flavourless Muscardine wine and the sweeter wines are most popular with visitors who I saw buying multiple cases to take away. I preferred a drier white wine made from the Stover variety, one of the University of Florida’s successful hybrid bunchgrapes. Well chilled it was clean with a very subtle floral taste.
You are unlikely to see these wines on the shelves of stores outside the state but should you visit Florida do please try some. They are working hard at making enjoyable wine in Florida and such work deserves our support. And grab any opportunity to go to Lakeridge Winery, you’ll enjoy the visit.
Have you tasted wine grown and made in Florida? Tell us your experiences on the friendly wine forum. Click the button on the right of the screen.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Too Cork or Not to Cork
Even the most jaded wine lover will enjoy and learn from this well written, easy reading yarn about that essential but disposable closure that must be removed before we can enjoy our favourite drink. If you’re thinking of a present for a wine-lover, this book will not disappoint. Highly recommended.
In Search of Bacchus
A low key book following Taber's meanderings through twelve of the worlds wine regions.