Agri Leader

Florida wine gaining popularity overseas as exports rise

Central Florida's Agri-LeaderWhen browsing through the local wine selections, one might be used to seeing a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or an Australian Shiraz on the shelves, as they are both popular choices in wines. Although we love our imported wines from other countries, it turns out the feeling is mutal. What is becoming more a common sight on the wine shelves, in places like Chile or Australia, are Florida wines such as Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs. This is especially true in Asian countries where something a little out-of-the-box, like a wine from Florida, is trendy. Florida wines are now being exported at higher rates as the state’s wine industry is growing and gaining recognition — both nationally and internationally. Some reports have the dollar amount of Florida wine exporting increasing at a considerable rate. The Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA) reports an increase from $11 million in 2007 to $17 million in 2012. However, that number may also include wine that is distributed here, as well as that which is produced here. Other states that are reportedly increasing their dollar amounts of wine exports are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington and Oregon. The largest wine exporting state is California.
Regardless of the actual numbers, the good news is that Florida wineries are getting more of the recognition they deserve. In turn, more Florida growers are now interested in producing wine. “In the past year, we have received many calls regarding the requirements and licensing for wineries in Florida,” said Thomas who explained that the licensing process is overseen by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). In the past year alone, the number of Florida wineries that became part of the Certified Farm Winery Program, administered by the FDACS, increased from 18 to 24. Florida currently has over 30 vineyards and wineries. The family-owned Florida Orange Groves, Inc. & Winery in St. Petersburg has won 244 awards/medals for their wine in international competitions. The winery makes 43 different varieties of tropical, citrus and berry wine, including some fun favorites like Blueberry Blue and Mango Mamma. Their wines are sold both domestically and internationally. Their most popular is actually a blend of their tropical wines. “Our Hurricane Class 5 is a Florida white sangria made from a blend of five of our most popular tropical wines: Mango Mamma, Juicy Watermelon, Florida Fever (passion fruit), Key Lime and Florida Sunset Pineapple,” said Vincent R. Shook, the winery’s president. Other popular choices sold by the Winery are: Mango Mamma (mango wine), Key Limen (key lime wine), Blueberry Blue (blueberry wine) and Black Gold (blackberry wine). All of their wines are made from 100 percent of the juice labeled on the bottle, such as actual mangos. While the tropical varieties are popular, many Florida wineries, such as the Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont, concentrate on producing classics such as Blanc Du Bois and Southern White, that are made from grapes. In the Sunshine State, there are several varieties of grapes that grow well here. They are muscadines and bunch grapes (vitis rotundifolia). “These varieties are resistant to the Pierce’s disease which can be a problem in humid climates,” said Tom Thomas, Development Representative, Division of Marketing and Development, FDACS, who added that both of these grape types make excellent white wines. (Harvesting time for grapes is generally between May and September.) Research on breeding/growing Vitis vinifera grapes is also currently being conducted by the UF/IFAS and the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research. Vitis vinifera grapes are typically cooler weather grapes that are often used are for red wines like chardonnay, and cabernet. Perhaps if the research succeeds, and more grape varieties are able to thrive here in Florida, then the wine exports will surge even further. Who knows, someday, we might be as well known for our wines are we are our orange juice.