When it comes to making Florida wine, seemingly anything goes, including avocado, mango, star fruit, lychee, and passion fruit.
The dispersion of Florida winemakers throughout the state is actually quite interesting, a geographic study in the state’s soil quality in its own right. As it does with many other facets of Florida, the I-4 corridor marks a pretty definitive line of demarcation in wine producers, with the majority of the grape-growing wineries sitting to the north, while the biggies in the fruit wine game stick to the south. Be it soil consistency, regional tastes, what have you, there is a line—a ten-lane line—paved in the sand, with a few outliers finding themselves on the other side of the tracks.
The fruit wine game is a whole different animal then the muscadine grape and blueberry wine arena. Where grape growers are somewhat limited to a few species and subspecies, fruit purveyors are limited only to their imagination. Take Schnebly Redland’s Winery near Homestead for example. Brainchild of namesake Peter and Denisse Schnebly, this winery is the undisputed king of tropical fruit wine made here in Florida. Opening in 2004, the winery—Florida’s southernmost—stemmed from a tropical fruit farm run by the Schnelblys, who had background in the boutique winery movement in Upstate New York in the 1970s.
“I was in the grape business when I lived in New York, the Finger Lakes, buying and selling grapes, but not making wine,” says Peter Schnebly. “I eventually left that, got my MBA, and was working for a restaurant chain as the director of marketing for when I realized I didn’t like New York. I always wanted to live in Florida; this is where I was supposed to be born. So one day I decided enough was enough, packed my stuff, and moved down.”
Once in Florida, Schnebly got back into the produce game, this time farming about 100 acres of exotic tropical fruit in Redland (Homestead’s northern neighbor). The Schnebly’s plot specialized in lychee, mango, carambola, guava, and passion fruit, among others, which was sold through their produce company Fresh King (the Schenebly’s sold Fresh King and the farm in May 2015). Come harvest, they often had an abundance of culls (non grade-a fruit that could not sell at the fresh market due to either stem-tear, were under- or overripe when picked, or had a blemish), or the market was weak, leaving the Schneblys with fruit that would go to waste. So, like that whole lemon/lemonade axiom, when handed extra lychees, the Schneblys made lychee wine.
“It turned out to be pretty good, like a Riesling,” says Schnebly.
Now, the Schnebly’s winery has become a multi-pronged business. With the sale of Fresh King in May, the Schnebly’s are now fully focusing on their winery, which has grown to include a fully operational brewery—the Miami Brewing Company, an onsite restaurant called the RedLander, and facility rental space to accommodate special events like weddings. And the winery/brewery/restaurant is just the half of it. A trip to the facility is more party than wine tasting, with a 20-acre facility and grounds complete with tropical gardens, a massive Chickee hut that doubles as a tasting hall, and tons of events at night and on the weekends to keep the place packed. The winery is ushering in a whole new experience for natives and tourists alike: agro-tourism.
“We really want to be a destination winery,” he says, “so our primary goal is for you to come on down, visit us, and have fun.”
Schnebly Redland’s Winery’s tropical vibe makes for the perfect party and special event destination.
One of his biggest selling points is that Schnebly wine is different. Where traditional grape wineries like Lakeridge and San Sebastian dabble in hybrid strains of muscadine and vinifera, Schnebly strictly uses fruit. And Boone’s Farm this is not. From lychee to passion fruit, mango to avocado, each wine is pressed from a fruit one would sooner find in a salad then in a glass.
“I went out there with a simple philosophy,” says Schnebly of his winemaking process. “What do you need to make wine? Acid and sugar. Any fruit that has a flavor, not just sweet, but any flavor, can be made into wine.”
Schnebly’s AvoVino imbues the winemaker’s experimental and entrepreneurial spirit, while the Lychee Wine is just plain good.
No other wine in the Schnebly portfolio embraces this more than AvoVino. Made with avocados, AvoVino, from the start, sounds like something most people would pass on—guacamole wine? But just a taste will have your palate do a double take. This is a different kind of wine. Highly aromatic with plum, avocado peel (naturally), and citrus notes on the nose, the wine has somewhat of a mineral taste that borders on dry. It also has a different kind of mouth feel for wine, with a slight oiliness on the finish. It takes some getting used to, especially when tasting alongside something like the Lychee Wine, which has a sweet, full-bodied flavor, but it is a nice break from your typical wine and definitely a conversation starter.
“It’s funny, but grape wines are cross dressers: they don’t want to taste like a grape, always something else when they are described,” says Schnebly. “Our wines taste like what other wines want to taste like.”
Some of my personal favorites are the Carambola Wine, which is made with star fruit—a clean, crisp wine with a sweet finish; and the Sparkling Passion, an effervescent wine made with passion fruit that has a semi-dry, tart, tangy flavor that seems to change on nearly every sip—its one to look for on the tour.
On a recent trip to my neighborhood Publix, I spied some Schnebly’s on the shelf alongside a few other Florida-made wines. If you are going to give them a try, refrigerate for a bit—the chill helps.
- Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery is open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m-11 p.m.; and Sunday from 12-5 p.m. (cover charge for nighttime events). Weekend tours of the winery and brewery are available for $7 per person; Saturdays and Sundays, 12-4 p.m.
- Tastings in the Grand Tasting Room cost $11.95 per person, and allow guests to try five uniquely tropical wines.
- For more information, visit schneblywinery.com.
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