Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards isn’t in a popular part of Florida. It’s only 26 miles from Orlando, but it seems worlds away from Disney World and Universal Studios. Lakeridge is in Lake County, a part of Florida known for its rolling hills and lakes—Lake County has over 1000 lakes and rivers. It was these lakes and rolling hills that helped attract citrus growers to the area in the late 19th century.
Growing in Lake County came to a peak in the late 1970’s. Then a frost in 1989 devastated much of Lake County’s orange groves, causing many of the citrus growers to leave town. It was around this time that Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards moved in, claiming a picturesque location amidst the hills of Clermont, FL.
Here about 80 acres of Muscadine and hybrid grapes flourish along the hillsides, rising and falling with the slope of the land. Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir don’t grow here in Florida—it’s too hot and humid. Instead, we have the heat- and humidity-resistant Florida Muscadine grape. Although not one of the grapes traditionally associated with wine-making in California, Florida has a long tradition of making wine from Muscadine grapes. These grapes, once wild, were pressed into the very first American wine by French settlers near Jacksonville in the 1560’s.
Displeased with the taste and lack of disease-resistance of these original grapes, local grape scientists started crossing the Muscadine with other grapes in the 1920’s to create tastier, more disease-resistant varieties. Their first success wasn’t until 1968 when Lorenzo Haight Stover, of the Leesburg Agricultural Research Center, developed the Pierce’s disease-resistant Stover grape.
Lakeridge is the largest winery in Florida, and grows several varieties of grapes, including Muscadine, Stover, and Blanc Du Bois grapes. They also grow newer Muscadine varieties like the Noble Muscadine grape. The Blanc Du Bois is my favorite – also created in Leesburg, FL in 1968.
Most wines made from Muscadine grapes are sweet or semi-sweet. They also make a pretty good sparking wine, or champagne substitute. Although I’m not really into sweet wines, I took a couple bottles of the semi-sweet Blanc Du Bois Reserve home with me on my first trip to Lakeridge. Back home, I served it with an Asian-style seafood dish. You can never have enough wines to pair with seafood in Florida.
Speaking of seafood, this weekend was Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards’ 8th Annual Wine & Seafood Festival. Each year, Lakeridge celebrates the beginning of Spring with their Wine & Seafood festival. Seafood tents surround the lawn, where attendees set up lawn chairs, sip wine, eat seafood, and listen to live music.
The lines were long, but the food was good. You may have missed this year’s seafood festival at Lakeridge, but the winery hosts multiple events throughout the year—about one event a month, including a harvest festival and grape stomp in summer. Check out the Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards’ website for a list of events, and check out Fresh from Florida’s list of wineries and vineyards for winerys and vineyards near you (or near where you are visiting in Florida). Cheers!