19239 U.S. 27 North, Clermont 34711
(800) 768-WINE; (352) 394-8627
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.;
Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: About 5 miles north of SR 50 and 3 miles
south of Florida Turnpike exit 285
Believe it or not, American wine making began in Florida, thanks to some French Huguenot settlers who started fermenting the local wild Muscadine grapes near present-day Jacksonville in about 1562. Viticulture was a thriving Florida industry until the 1930s, when a plant disease wiped out most of the grapes. Now, thanks to Lakeridge, the only winery in Central Florida, wine making is starting to make a comeback in the Sunshine State. Lakeridge currently produces some 200 thousand gallons a year with plans for expansion. Perhaps one day it will fill up all the acres abandoned by the citrus industry. (See Citrus Tower, above.)
The attractive Spanish-style building set atop a small hill on a bend in the highway has been cleverly designed to serve as both a working winery and a welcome center for passing tourists. Despite its out-of-the-way location and low-key promotion, Lakeridge attracts a steady stream of visitors. I wonder if it’s the free wine?
Tours run constantly, as long as there are people arriving, and take about 45 minutes. After a short video about the history of wine making in Florida and Lakeridge’s operations, you are taken on a short tour. It leads you, via an elevated walkway, over the compact wine making area at the back of the building, onto a terrace that overlooks the vineyards and the rolling, lake-dotted countryside of the Central Florida Ridge, and then back over the U-shaped wine making room.
After the tour, there is a 15-minute wine tasting that lets you sample some of Lakeridge’s wines, including Crescendo, their methode Champenoise sparkling wine. You will also get to taste their mulled wine and, if you like, purchase a bag of spices to make your own. And speaking of purchases, all of Lakeridge’s wines are available for purchase. In addition to a varying menu of specials, full cases are sold at a 20% discount. Buy three cases and get 25% off. Lakeridge also sells its own line of salad dressings, sauces, mustards, jams, and jellies.
The winery throws special events on a regular basis throughout the year, ranging from “Jazz at the Winery” to vintage auto shows. There is an admission of $2 for most of these events, although some are free
Citrus Tower, Presidents Hall of Fame.
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