Florida wine? You may be surprised to learn that the state of Florida has 88 wine producers with a total of 550 acres of vineyards across the state. The industry brings in close to 400,000 tourist visits a year and has an astounding $11 billion economic impact.[i] It’s no secret that Florida’s wine industry is booming. If you were not considering Florida as a viable wine-producing region, these numbers may change your mind.
One Florida winemaker with 40 years in the business has made a huge impact on the industry with her contributions using the native Muscadine grape. Jeanne Burgess, VP and Director of Winemaking Operations, oversees the winemaking at two sister wineries in Florida, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont, Florida, and San Sebastian Winery located in historic downtown St. Augustine.
Who is Jeanne Burgess?
While growing up in Niceville, Florida, Jeanne’s father fostered a love of winemaking in his daughter at a young age as he made his own blends at home. He was an amateur winemaker at first, who eventually started a winery of his own in the Panhandle of Florida. Jeanne assumed that she would end up working with him, and followed her passion by studying oenology and viticulture at Mississippi State University, which had a program at that time with a focus on winemaking in the Southeast U.S. Though her long-term career would take her away from her father’s business, she eventually found herself at Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, where she has been a winemaker now for close to 40 years.
When asked “Why Florida?” Jeanne responds that her choice to remain in the state to pursue her career in wine had a lot to do with her father’s influence, but also the tax and financial incentives offered by the state at the time to encourage growing the industry. Because the Florida wine trade wasn’t as well established as in many states out West, there was, and still is, a lot of room for entrepreneurial growth. Those who choose to stay in Florida wine usually have an experimental mindset and encourage a challenge, and these qualities were intriguing to a young Jeanne.
A Muscadine Pioneer
When it comes to making wine in Florida, there are certain considerations that viticulturists must take. For one, the heat, humidity, and stormy summers make it hard to grow many international varieties. Therefore, the most successful grapes are the native vines that have been conditioned to withstand the harsher climate. Muscadine has emerged as the most resilient grape for most producers across the state, as its many varieties are largely resistant to certain pests and diseases such as Pierce’s Disease.
Muscadine grapes make a wine that is light in style, refreshing, fruit-forward, and always with a bit of sweetness. Most people may be aware of the sweeter Muscadine table wines, but have you ever had a sparkling Muscadine? Port or cream Sherry-style wine made with Muscadine?
Jeanne Burgess was the first winemaker to experiment with making Muscadine into these different styles just a few years into her career at Lakeridge. She has truly been a pioneer in the industry with her experimentations that became mainstays on the shelves of the winery. Using two main cultivars of the Muscadine grape, the white Carlos and the red Noble, Jeanne and her team now produce wines ranging from a true Florida sparkling made in the traditional method to popular sweet table wines (Southern & Vintners Red & White), dry wines made with Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Petite Sirah grapes from California, as well as Port and Sherry-style wines produced at San Sebastian Winery.
Overall, the two wineries now own and manage 167 acres of those 550 acres of vineyards across the state, producing 150,000 cases or 1.8 million bottles of wine a year. Again, no small operation, Jeanne oversees a large winemaking machine in a state mostly known for its beaches and amusement parks. It is possible to find Jeanne’s wines in stores such as Publix Supermarkets, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and Total Wine around the state of Florida, and potentially in parts of the Southeast.
Visiting Lakeridge and San Sebastian Wineries
Any Winetraveler would be remiss if they did not add Florida to their list of places to taste wine. There are a couple of places that you can tour and have the opportunity to taste Jeanne’s wines.
19239 US-27, Clermont, FL 34715
Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards is located right off of the Florida Turnpike just 25 miles west of downtown Orlando. The winery opened in 1989 and sits on 127 acres of rolling hills in central Florida. It is the largest premium winery in Florida, and visitors can enjoy a tasting of wines made with the native Muscadine grape, or some of the wines that are produced with vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah.
During normal operations, Lakeridge winery opens its doors for groups to attend festivals and live music events. Tours take place throughout the day seven days a week, and visitors are given a glimpse into the winemaking process before a complimentary tasting of the wines. Guests are allowed to buy bottles to enjoy on the property with snacks available for purchase. Lakeridge also offers a kid-friendly tasting experience with Muscadine juice that has not been fermented into alcohol!
If you are interested in visiting, check out the winery’s website to find out more about what events are scheduled and other rules for visiting (including no pets, unfortunately). Complimentary winery tours and wine tasting are offered seven days a week Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m.-3:45 p.m. and Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
157 King St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
St. Augustine is the oldest city in America, so there is no doubt that people were making wine in this area before they were producing it in other parts of the country. At this winery located in historic downtown St. Augustine, visitors are in for a treat! This is the production facility for the winery’s dessert wines, which are aged and bottled in that building. Because St. Augustine is a historic port town, it only seemed fitting that the Port wines would be produced here, along with cream Sherry made with Muscadine.
When you tour the facility in St. Augustine, you will have the unique opportunity to learn about winemaking in Florida through a guide and video, and you can also enjoy a complimentary tasting at the tasting bar downstairs. Upstairs, you have the option to try a couple of their premium wines, such as the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and the California Petite Sirah for $5. These wines made from European vinifera vines are blended, filtered, and bottled in Florida, though the juice is acquired through partnerships with west coast wineries.
After the tour, guests can browse the gift shop for bottles from either winery, as well as find gifts that are special for wine lovers and enthusiasts. San Sebastian also has a calendar of live music that is posted on their website that takes place in the Cellar Upstairs Bar & Restaurant.
San Sebastian Winery is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m-6 p.m.
It’s time to rethink Florida wine and discover something new. If you’re local to Florida or the southeast, now is a great time to explore wine travel and tasting in your own backyard!
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[i] 2017 Economic Impact Report on American Wine Industry
Prepared by John Dunham & Associates, New York