Agritourism in our state appears in many forms, from corn mazes to U-Picks to wineries. Farm owners have even turned their barns into elegant wedding venues, and family farms have become the destination for farm tours and field trips alike.
These innovative avenues of business have opened new doors for farmers and their families not only to maintain a successful operation, but also increase public knowledge of agriculture.
Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
Located just 35 miles north of Walt Disney World and nestled in the rolling hills of Clermont, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards has been producing grapes for wine since 1989.
Charles Cox, president of Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, said that his venture in the Florida wine industry began in Tallahassee in the early 1980s where he experimented growing grapes on just five acres. Today, Lakeridge Winery produces roughly 100,000 cases per year, or more than 1 million bottles.
“We feel that if there is one thing to point to as a factor to the success of our wine company, it would be the way we have integrated agritourism into our business plan,” Cox said.
The winery offers a unique experience for all visitors hoping to taste some of Florida’s most premiere wines. Open seven days a week, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards offers tastings, guided tours of the facility and vineyard, and a unique wine and gift shop.
The 127-acre estate, the largest winery in the state, attracts more than 160,000 wine enthusiasts annually. Visitors flock to the lush grounds to sample some of Florida’s most premiere wines and attend year-round festivals and events.
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From the Grape to the Glass
Grape varieties grown include the native varieties of the red Noble, bronze Carlos and Welder Muscadines, along with the production of Vinifera grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Muscadine grapes are native to the Southeast. The Noble, Welder and Carlos varieties flourish in Florida because of their disease resistance and adaptability to our warm, humid climate.
In addition to the 70-acre vineyard in Clermont, grapes are also grown at two other locations in the state. Lakeridge Winery contracts with other local growers who specialize in growing Muscadine grapes and provide additional varieties.
J.R. Newbold is the President of the Florida Wine and Grape Growers Association and is one of Lakeridge’s contracted growers. His 10-acre vineyard, located in Putnam County, has been producing Noble grapes for Lakeridge for 11 years.
“Lakeridge has been a great partner to work with,” he said. “They are pioneers in the Florida wine industry and are supportive of their partner growers.”
The grapes mature in the late summer and are picked with mechanical harvesters for efficiency. The mechanical harvesters allow a harvest of 40 and 132 tons per shift, depending on the specific requirements of the Winemaker. Wine is produced onsite in a 30,000-square-foot facility.
Touring the Winery
Operations manager Barry Hus said that what makes Lakeridge Winery’s tours different is the amount of educational information that is offered.
“We take the time to educate our guests on how to evaluate the wine so they have knowledge of wine in the future,” Hus said.
Guests learn about the six “S’s” of sensory evaluation: see, swirl, smell, sip, swallow and savor. The combined effects of these senses and processes make each of Lakeridge wines distinctive.
“On Saturdays, we have food trucks and people can come and enjoy our outdoor wine bar and take in the beauty of the estate,” Hus said. “A lot of people don’t realize that these rolling hills exist and are taken by surprise when they come to visit.”
Lakeridge wines are sold under the Lakeridge and Lakeridge Reserve brands and can be found at supermarkets throughout Florida and South Georgia. For winery details during COVID-19, please refer to their website, lakeridgewinery.com.
Did You Know?
- There are 88 wine producers in the Sunshine State.
- There are approximately 550 acres under vine in Florida.
- Florida ranks 7th in the nation for wine production.
- More than 1.9 million gallons of wine are made in Florida annually.
Source: Florida Grape Growers Association