Do you like wine? If you want to visit all the cliche wineries in Napa or the Loire Valley go ahead and face the crowds. However, if you want a more personal, off the beaten path experience, come to Florida. There are numerous small wineries dotted all over the state which use muscadine grapes or blueberries to make fabulous wines. I challenge you to see them all.
Country roads lead to Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery in central Florida. At the end of the road you will see rows of muscadine grapes growing on their vines. Behind them a two story country home radiates friendliness as a wooden swing hangs from a nearby tree. A stream gently meanders along in the distance. A gravel drive leads to some parking spaces and more vineyards. To the left, what looks like a metal bunker welcomes visitors with a sign proclaiming “Wine tasting this way.”
Muscadine grapes have a very thick skin and grow in bunches. Native to Florida, Muscadine grapes can withstand the extreme heat and moisture, making them one of the only grapes able to grow here. The thick skins make them more resistant to disease. While containing many anti-oxidants, the leathery skin turns people away from eating them. However, they make wonderful wines.
Muscadine Grapes at Bunker Hill Winery
Bunker Hill Winery is owned and run by Larry and Lenora Woodham, who we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit. They began planting the muscadine grapes over 20 years ago. In 2009 they bottled their first bottles of muscadine wine. Since then, they began using other fruits to make wines as well. But they didn’t stop there. They now create over 40 varieties of wine including coffee, green tea, and dandelion to name a few. They do not filter their wines, therefore retaining all the health benefits from the products they use to create their wines.
What does unfiltered wine mean?
Most wineries filter their wines to increase clarity using machinery and layers of products like cellulose powder and perlite to reduce sediment. At Bunker Hill, Larry and Lenora let gravity do the work by letting sediment settle to the bottom naturally for a year before bottling their wines. By not filtering the wines, the fruit particles remain intact increasing health benefits of the wine.
You won’t just taste wines made with muscadine grapes, but also make new friends
We opened the door to a warm welcome from Lenora. She invited us to sit down at a long table and asked us where we were from. Larry was at the other end of the table having a friendly conversation with two couples just finishing up a tasting. He quickly came over to us to set us up for a tasting of our own. Tastings are only $6 per person with a purchase. He explained that we got to pick 5 wines and then he would pick a “wild card” for us to taste. He said jokingly to me, ” I think you know this guy you came in with, so if you each choose different wines and share you will get to try twice as many wines.”
Larry and Lenora use local fruits and vegetables to make their wines, so most are seasonal. They had a wide variety made with muscadine grapes in addition to many sparkling wines. They also had many fruit wines. However, we had just visited several blueberry wineries where we tasted numerous varieties of fruit wines. So it was their more unique wines that drew our attention.
Our choices, sorry muscadine grapes
In addition to fruit and muscadine wines, Larry and Lenora had a selection of tea and vegetable wines, most of which we had never imagined. I chose Natural Florida Dandelion Wine, Natural Fresh Green Tea, Cucumber Wine, Cherry Tomato, and another I can’t remember. Larry chose Bamboo Leaf Herbal Tea for my wild card. Dan chose Black Tea, Natural Fresh Florida Jalepeno, Natural Red Grapefruit, plus two more. Larry gave Dan Natural Fresh Spiced Apple for his wild card while advising us to let him know after we each had a sip. He told us he was going to heat the remainder for us so we could try it warm. Wow! It was amazing.
While we were tasting our wines, Lenora came over to see if we wanted to sample any jams and jellies. We ended up ordered a snack platter with cheese, meats, crackers, pickles, and olives for two, which she embellished with samples of her cherry tomato and spiced pumpkin jams. She then told us a story of how one time someone asked her is she liked the flavors of jam she made, to which she replied, ” Of course! Why do you think I make them?”
We ended up trying several other jams while she asked about our family and told us about her daughter who lives in Costa Rica. She explained how every year her daughter would bring fresh ground coffee from local farmers when she would come home for a visit. Lenora would then use these coffee beans to make their coffee wine. We hadn’t tried that one so she let us have an extra sample. Delicious! It tasted like a lighter, less sweet version of Kahlua.
You can’t leave empty handed
We could see why the tastings were only $6. Their wines and jellies are so good, nobody can leave without buying. We ended up with 6 bottles: Dandelion Wine, Green Tea, Jalepeno, Coffee, Spiced Apple and Cucumber Wine, which tastes like cucumber vodka mixed with seltzer minus the fizz. We also bought several jams. Chocolate banana for our teen to spread on a peanut butter sandwich, which Lenora informed us was made with cocoa powder. We bought the pumpkin spice for my mom. In addition we bought jalepeno jelly, dandelion wine jelly, and coconut jam for ourselves.
Natural and Renewable resources
BHV uses only recycled wine bottles. They also create art and crafts with wine bottles to decorate their property. Larry and Lenora will accept 750ml bottles for recycling as long as they are free from all residue. However, they will not accept 750ml bottles from other Florida wineries. When bringing 750ml bottles for reuse, BHV will give you reward points. In addition, they accept all natural corks for recycling.
By providing supportive environments for native animals, the property at Bunker Hill Winery has been awarded status as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. They have also received the award of Green Certification at the Master Level due to their following green standards.
Need a place to stay?
Can’t bring yourself to leave? The Woodhams rent out the Winery Roost to guests. Stay as little as two nights or stay for a week. The home features 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, a complete kitchen, with a wrap-around porch. Located in a setting of spring fed garden ponds, this makes a peaceful country getaway. Guests are also treated to a personal tour of the vineyard and winery along with a complimentary wine tasting.
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