Take a tour of the Gainesville wine trail
By Whitney Butler
Did you know Florida was the first state to grow wine grapes in America? During the 16th century, Spanish missionaries planted and harvested grapes in Florida to produce sacramental wine for religious ceremonies. Common grape varietals were difficult to sustain in the tropical climate and susceptible to diseases, which slowed and limited growth of the industry until the 1950s. Florida’s climate might not be ideal for wine grapes, but it’s perfect for tropical fruits. And as luck would have it, fruits containing high sugar levels can be processed into delicious wine.
Florida is likely not the first place you think of when mapping out a wine trail. But there’s something to be said about the road less traveled, particularly one so different. Explore Florida’s wine history and refreshing wine blends made with locally sourced fruit like blueberries, peaches and apples; or sample traditional muscadine wine, grown almost exclusively in the southeastern United States. Whatever you prefer, there’s a road to get you there, and many of them are easily accessed from Gainesville.
Gainesville is perfectly situated in north-central Florida, where visitors will find several trailheads to various wineries scattered throughout the county. Here are a few recommendations to help you plan your trip through Florida wine country.
Island Grove Winery
Located southeast of Gainesville, Island Grove Winery is capitalizing on blueberries, a popular fruit grown mostly in Alachua County. In fact, 25 percent of the state’s entire blueberry production comes from this region. So when life hands you too many blueberries, make blueberry wine!
The small town of Island Grove was an original station along the Florida Railway and Navigation Company’s rail line. Thousands of pounds of crops were shipped from this area, which helped build the trading post into a small town. Island Grove Ag Products grew up from this healthy economy and became one of the largest distributors of blueberries in Florida.
As the company grew, the founders looked for ways to innovate products with blueberries and other local fruits. Two of the most popular wines are made from 100 percent blueberry with no grape products or added flavor. Kinda Dry Blueberry Wine is medium-bodied with rich aromas of blueberries, dark red fruits and spices. Sorta Sweet Blueberry Wine is lighter, crisper and sweet like fresh blueberry pie.
In addition to blueberry wines, Island Grove Winery also produces wines featuring strawberry, blackberry, green apple, raspberry and peach. Stop by the tasting room Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Bluefield Estate Winery
Located in Gainesville, Bluefield Estate is a beautiful farm where curious wine seekers can explore more fruit and grape blends as well as muscadine grape wines, which are traditionally served with dessert.
This family-owned winery lives in the small town of Windsor, where Jennifer and Bradley Ferguson started making wine in their kitchen many years ago. Today the couple commercially produces their wine, yet the property maintains the quaint charm of a family-run winery.
This winery focuses on blending traditional grape varietals like merlot and chardonnay with fresh fruits like blueberries, pomegranates and peaches. The result is complex and whimsical.
The family farm grows the winery’s blueberries, as well as other fruits like pineapples and grapes. In addition to visiting the winery, guests can explore the vineyard and pick fresh fruit to take home and enjoy. Visit the Bluefield Estate Winery on Saturday or Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Log Cabin Farm, Vineyard and Winery
About an hour east of Gainesville, trailblazers will enjoy the beautiful farmlands and countryside of Log Cabin Winery. Beautiful oak trees and family vineyards surround the tasting room and facilities located on this rural property in an area known as “Old Florida” next to the historic St. John’s River.
Here visitors will enjoy dessert style wines produced on 10 acres of muscadine and Blanc du Bois vineyards.
Muscadine is a unique varietal known almost exclusively in the southeastern US. This particular grapevine produces a berry-like fruit with a thick protective skin. This varietal does very well in Florida’s native climate, particularly in the summer, and is a traditional beverage among Southerners.
In addition to wines, this vineyard offers finely crafted jams and jellies made from the same muscadine grapes, which contain high levels of polyphenols and other nutrients celebrated for their health benefits.
Visit this winery for a taste of traditional muscadine wine Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
These are just three of several wineries producing flavors distinct to Florida’s terroir.
For everything you need to plan your wine trail adventure in Gainesville, check out the Gainesville Visitors and Convention Bureau’s website or Facebook page today!