Raise Your Glass

Long before Florida joined the Union in 1845, back in the days when it was still a territory—wild, untamed and rough around the edges—a tradition of winemaking was born. In fact, wine grapes were grown in the Sunshine State earlier than in any other region of the country.

Settlers of the St. Augustine area in the 1500s first made wine from native muscadine grapes they found growing there. Later that century, Spanish missionaries planted grapes specifically to make wine for religious ceremonies.

In 1923, the Florida Grape Growers Association (renamed the Florida Wine and Grape Growers Association in 2015) was founded. By the 1930s, University of Florida researchers were hard at work, developing hybrid, disease-resistant grape varieties that would thrive in the state’s temperate climate and sandy soil.

Many Florida vineyards make their wine from muscadine grapes, as these native Southeastern grapes thrive in the warm, humid climate and require fewer chilling hours than other grapes. They’re also resistant to disease, including the dreaded Pierce’s disease, first discovered in California in the late 1800s, which can decimate other species of grapes.

Muscadines have all the health benefits of red wine… and then some. Rich in polyphenolic antioxidants, muscadines are loaded with ellagic acid, which is touted for its anti-cancer and tumor-fighting properties.

Grapes aren’t the only source for winemaking. A number of Florida wineries also focus on fruit and fruit-blend wines made from locally grown berries and fruits. Blueberry wine is especially popular.

We’ve rounded up a number of wineries and vineyards in the Central Florida region. Why not take advantage of the perfect fall weather and make a short road trip to discover what they have to offer?

Island Grove Wine Company

Island Grove, FL

Founded: 2010

Located in Alachua County, Island Grove Wine Company takes full advantage of the area’s premier blueberry production, crafting fine wines from the freshest blueberries grown on their own Florida plantations. The wine company is a division of Island Grove Ag Products, which produces over 2 million pounds of blueberries in Florida each year. Award-winning wine maker Chase Marden came up with the winery’s premier blueberry wines. Rich in antioxidants, these wines are very low in sulfites and boast many of the same health benefits as fresh blueberries. The winery also produces several different fruit-wine blends. Situated off a tranquil country road, the winery features a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot facility right on the farm. Statuesque oak trees abound in the area, so it only makes sense that the wine labels bear this distinctive image.

Why We Love It

Specializes in blueberry wines and fruit-wine blends

Offers a wine club, and members are given priority purchase options for pre-released and small-batch wines

Free tours and tastings

Wines Available

Kinda Dry Blueberry Wine, Sorta Sweet Blueberry Wine, Blueberry Moscato, numerous other fruit wines ranging from dry to sweet

islandgrovewinecompany.com | (352) 481-WINE (9463)


Whispering Oaks Winery

Oxford, FL

Founded: 2014

Located in Sumter County just five miles from The Villages, Whispering Oaks Winery is off to an explosively good start, as sales have tripled since their opening last year. The Vanderwey family turned a 58-acre horse farm into a blueberry farm and winery. By the end of 2015, they expect to be producing 1 million bottles per year. Whispering Oaks Winery has already won awards in five international competitions, one of which had 4,902 products entered from 29 states and 26 countries. The winery focuses exclusively on blueberry wines made from the freshest Florida-grown berries, known for being high in beneficial antioxidants. Wines and wine accessories are sold in their gift shop. Food is available, so you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the farm with wine and snacks.

Why We Love It

Whispering Oaks wines are also sold in Trader Joes and Fresh Market

Wine tasting room located in a classy converted horse barn

Open daily with live music on weekends

Wines Available

Six types of blueberry wine, ranging from mild to sweet to dry

winesofflorida.com(352) 748-0449


Tangled Oaks Vineyard

Grandin, FL

Founded: 2006

Founded by the DaCasto family, which has roots in the Piedmont region of Italy, Tangled Oaks Vineyard is located in Putnam County, just east of Gainesville in the quaint community of Grandin. A certified Florida Farm Winery, Tangled Oaks was the first winery established in the county and focuses on traditional southern muscadine wines from locally grown Florida grapes, along with some international varieties. Wines range from dry to sweet. They offer free tours and tastings. The winery is also the site of large wine and art festivals in the spring and fall.

Why We Love It

Expanded gift shop with work by local artists and craftsmen

Award-winning Noble wine

Hosts several festivals each year

Wines Available

Muscadine (Carlos and Noble), international varieties include Barbera and Chardonnay, blueberry and other fruit wines in season

tangledoaksvineyard.com | (386) 659-1707

Dakotah Winery & Vineyards

Chiefland, FL

Founded: 1985

This family-owned and -operated winery was founded by Dr. Max Rittgers, a native of South Dakota, who came to Central Florida 50 years ago. The name “Dakotah” was taken from the Native American Lakota tribe. With its classy setting and immaculate grounds, Dakotah Winery is known as a place of peace and a haven for both humans and waterfowl, as it is also a wildlife refuge. Dakotah’s wine labels feature a colorful wood duck, many of which call the winery home and can be seen there regularly. Antique windmills and a 1930’s Ford truck add to the historic ambiance. Guests enjoy free tours and tastings and relaxing on the deck overlooking the pond where many large Japanese Koi sparkle and splash beneath the Florida sun. Inside, wine samples are served daily at the horseshoe-shaped, copper tasting counter. Today, the winery is run by Max and his son, Rob Rittgers, and has become a popular destination for wine lovers from Marion County and The Villages.

Why We Love It

Featured in Southern Living magazine

Wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary

Underground wine cellar

Wines Available

Muscadine wine: Noble, Carlos, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Blush, Blueberry Dessert Wine, Cream Sherry, Port, non-alcoholic muscadine juice

dakotahwinery.com | (352) 493-9309

Oak Haven Farms & Winery

Sorrento, FL

Founded: 1996

You may already know Oak Haven Farms as a “U-pick” destination for strawberries. It’s become a popular spot on weekends during strawberry season (late December through early April) when it also features a country kitchen. In 2010, the Stauderman family added a vineyard and on-site winery. Made from its own berries, Oak Haven Farm’s strawberry wine is a great accompaniment for dessert. They also offer blueberry wine made from local Florida blueberries, along with the popular muscadine wines, Carlos and Noble, including sweet and dry variations of both.

Why We Love It

Strawberry wine (their best seller!)

Discounts on half and full cases of wine

Country store and restaurant during strawberry season

Wines Available

Strawberry Wine, Blueberry Wine, muscadine wines: Carlos, Carlos Dry, Noble, Noble Dry

berriesandwines.com | (352) 516-2139

Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards

Clermont, FL

Founded: 1989

Ranked as the state’s largest premium winery, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards is located on a 127-acre estate in the scenic, rolling countryside. Considered a pioneer in the development of Florida wines, Lakeridge produces over a million bottles annually. Wines are sold under the Lakeridge and Lakeridge Reserve brand labels at the winery, major supermarkets and wine shops throughout Florida. The winery features a 35,000-square-foot, Spanish-style building that houses the winemaking area, distribution warehouse, retail wine shop with gifts and wine accessories, over 350,000 gallons of refrigerated stainless steel storage tanks and sparkling wine caves. Complimentary tours and tastings are conducted seven days a week. You can purchase gourmet foods in the wine shop and enjoy them in their picnic area.

Why We Love It

Hosts 12 different themed festivals annually

Has won more than 600 awards for excellence in winemaking

Lakeridge’s wines also sold at Florida supermarkets and wine shops

Wines Available

Numerous varieties of table, dessert, blended and sparkling wines made from native muscadine and hybrid grapes, such as Stover and Blanc du Bois

lakeridgewinery.com(352) 394-8627 or (800) 768-WINE (9463)

San Sebastian Winery

St. Augustine, FL

Founded: 1996

What better place to learn about winemaking than in the birthplace of American wine? San Sebastian Winery makes its home in historic St. Augustine, ideally situated in one of Henry Flagler’s old East Coast Railway buildings. Stop in for a complimentary guided tour, which starts every 15 to 20 minutes seven days a week, and be sure to find your way to the expansive tasting counter to sample their award-winning wines. With the same owner as Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, San Sebastian Winery is delighted to share the art of winemaking with guests and wine lovers. If you’re there on the weekend, don’t miss The Cellar Upstairs Wine, Jazz and Blues Bar. You’ll appreciate a dynamic view of the city from the third floor setting as you listen to live music and enjoy San Sebastian wines, along with a selection of light appetizers and sandwiches.

Why We Love It

Large wine shop

Food and live music on weekends

San Sebastian Wines also sold in Florida supermarkets and wine shops

Wines Available

11 different wines, sparkling and dessert wines, Cream Sherry, Port

sansebastianwinery.com(904) 826-1594 or (888) 352-9463


Strong Tower Vineyard & Winery

Spring Hill, FL

Founded: 2001

Owners Terry and Janis McKnight planted their first vines in 2001 and became a Florida Farm Winery in 2008. All Strong Tower wines are made from three thoughtfully selected grape varieties grown in their own 11-acre vineyard. These include Ison (a hybrid muscadine), Carlos (a white muscadine) and Norton (a northern bunch grape). Depending on the season, the winery also makes blueberry, strawberry and watermelon wine from locally grown fruit. Strong Tower won multiple awards at the 11th and 12th Florida International Wine Competition. Their one-site shop offers wines, wine accessories and gifts. Every other Friday, Strong Tower stays open until 10pm for “Evening at the Vineyard,” featuring food vendors and wine available for purchase by the glass or bottle. Enjoy a relaxing evening under the stars! Check their website for the next date.

Why We Love It

Available for private tastings, parties, fundraisers and special occasion events

Open for “U-pick” during harvest season

Complimentary tasting and vineyard tours

“Evening at the Vineyard” every other Friday night

Wines Available

Whites, reds, blush and fruit wines in season (blueberry, strawberry, watermelon)

strongtowervineyard.com | (352) 799-7612


Bluefield Estates Winery

Gainesville, FL

Founded: 2006

Bradley and Jennifer Ferguson are Gainesville locals and graduates of the University of Florida who turned their winemaking hobby into a commercial winery business. Bluefield Estates Winery is located on Gainesville’s east side near Newnan’s Lake in the small community of Windsor. The Fergusons grow blueberries and muscadine grapes (both Carlos and Noble varieties) on their farm to make their wines. They also have created a line of flavorful fruity fusion wines made from all-natural fruit blended with popular varietal grapes. There’s no appointment necessary for wine tasting, but if you’d like to arrange for a private tasting for a large group (eight or more people), call to set up an appointment.

Why We Love It

Join their wine club for discounts

U-pick grapes and blueberries, in season (call to make arrangements)

Subscribe to mailing list to receive special offers and updates

Wines Available

Blueberry, muscadine (Carlos and Noble), fruity fusion wines

bluefieldestatewinery.com | (352) 337-2544

Flagler Beachfront Winery

Flagler Beach, FL

Founded: 2013

Talk about a perfect setting. Flagler Beachfront Winery is literally located on the ocean and takes full advantage of that fact. You can relax with a glass of wine on the patio that offers an exceptional ocean view. With a focus on crafting small lot, premium wines, Flagler Beachfront Winery releases new wines throughout the year. Their winery, tasting room and gift shop are open seven days a week, year-round. Enjoy progressive food and wine pairings, an extensive tapas menu and gourmet desserts. The winery features Florida-made draft beer on tap and live entertainment every Friday night.

Why We Love It

Oceanfront patio (dog friendly!)

Red and white wine slushies

Full moon parties and bottling parties

Wines Available

Assortment of reds (from Cabernet to Pinot noir), and whites (from Chardonnay to Riesling), made from native muscadine out-of-state grapes

flaglerbeachfrontwinery.com | (386) 693-4950

Backyard Barn Winery & Microbrewery

Wildwood, FL

Founded: 2015

Owners Joe and Melissa Winiarski turned their passion into a profession when they started Backyard Barn Winery & Microbrewery. This small-batch, farm-based business is family-owned and -operated and is dual licensed for both wine and beer manufacturing. Thanks to the welcoming, laid-back atmosphere, it feels more like hanging out at a cool friend’s place than going to an “establishment.” Check out the band shell, or relax in an Adirondack chair around the fire pit in one of their cozy pergolas. Be sure to visit the indoor tasting room and production room. Enjoy a traditional Italian, thin-crust pizza made in their wood-fired pizza oven, as well as fresh food from local food truck vendors. Patrons love their mead and cheese boards and the delicious German-style pretzels with beer-cheese dip. Backyard Barn grows muscadine and Blanc du Bois bunch grapes (developed by the University of Florida). They also make blueberry and blackberry wines from their own fruit as well as other seasonal fruit wines and mead, all using locally produced fruit and honey.

Why We Love It

The farm’s adorable miniature donkeys inspired their logo

Live entertainment on Saturday evening

Works in partnership with UF to grow their own hops

Wines Available

22 different wines, including muscadine and seasonal fruit wines; five different meads (honey wine)

backyardbarnwinery.com orfacebook.com/backyardbarninfo(352) 418-7887


The Corkscrew

Ocala, FL and The Villages, FL

Founded: 2012

If you ever wanted to be a winemaker, here’s your chance! The Corkscrew not only offers a great place to socialize over wine and snacks, but it’s also the place to make your own wine, which is a perfect date night or girls’ night out activity. Owners Joe and Kelli Carvalho furnish the supplies and the how-to instruction. They’ll help you customize your own wine, right down to the personalized labels. It’s become a popular option for weddings and other special events. Once the wine has aged properly, you come in to bottle, cork and label it. Each batch makes 28 to 30 bottles. Enjoy meat and cheese boards, hummus boards and live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings. Wine and beer available by the glass or in sample flights.

Why We Love It

Private venue available for special events

Make your own wine complete with personalized labels

All wine and beer offered on tap is made on premises

Wines Available

Numerous varieties made from grapes imported from around the world

thecorkscrewwinery.comOcala: (352) 402-0158 or The Villages: (352) 751-1787

Florida Estates Winery

Land O’Lakes, FL

Founded: 2001

Enjoy a true Florida setting when you visit Florida Estates Winery, which is located on a 3,600-acre working cattle ranch. Winemaker Ron Hunt happily shares his expertise and invites you to the tasting room where you can sample small-batch wines made by hand the old-fashioned way. Open daily for conducted tastings and retail sales in their wine and gift store. Large groups of 15 or more should make advance reservations. Florida Estates Winery is home to numerous special events, so check their website for the latest happenings. Ron also hosts “All About Wine,” a blog talk radio program every Thursday at 7pm Eastern on the Internet, where he talks wine with wine lovers from around the world.

Why We Love It

Festivals, special events and wine classes held throughout the year

Close to antique shops and dining in historic Dade City and San Antonio

Wines Available

Wide variety of wines made from University of Florida hybrid grapes, including white, Chardonnay (from California grapes) blush, red, orange, key lime, starfruit, plantation spice and strawberry port

floridaestateswines.com | (813) 996-2113

Log Cabin Farm & Vineyard

Satsuma, FL

Founded: 1995

The Southern tradition of muscadine wine is alive and well at Log Cabin Farm & Vineyard, owned and operated by a third-generation farming family. Located in Putnam County, it’s just minutes from the historic St. Johns River. Originally established as a citrus and poultry farm more than 50 years ago, the present agricultural focus is on muscadine and Blanc du Bois grape varietals. Log Cabin’s country gift shop offers their own wines along with wine accessories and “farm-to-fork” selections, such as muscadine jellies, ciders and sauces. An annual highlight is the harvest festival held in late August. There’s even a crowning of the “Grape Goddess” who earns her crown by stomping the most grape juice!

Why We Love It

Replica log cabin

Vineyard venue available for weddings and private events

Annual Old Florida Harvest Festival

Wines Available

Carlos muscadine, tropical fruit blends

logcabinfarmwinery.com | (386) 467-0000

Learn More

Space doesn’t permit us to list every winery in the state, but you can learn about more by visiting tryfloridawine.com and clicking on the “Explore our wineries!” button.

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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