Florida Wine: Henscratch Farms

Watch out west coast – the other 47 states are producing wine, some with great results.

A couple of successful wine writers came up with the idea of “Drink Local Wine Week.” The concept: they and other writers across the country would write about wines in their state to encourage people to discover regional wines (for more information visit drinklocalwine.com). I’m spending the week visiting some of Florida’s wineries, to see what the Sunshine State has to offer.

If you’re looking for big and complex wines, you won’t find them here. The warm and muggy climate isn’t great for Bordeaux varietals; here Muscadine grapes thrive. They produce sweet and semi-sweet wines that are served chilled, great for sipping outside on a hot Florida day. If you’re not a fan of sweet and fruity wines, you’ll have a hard time finding a Florida wine that suits your palate.

My first trip was to Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery. It’s located in Lake Placid, the Caladium Capital of the World. It’s a small town northwest of Lake Okeechobee, about a 2 hour drive south from Orlando and southeast from Tampa. Lake Placid’s Main Street is a small stretch of hair and nail salons, regional banks, murals and the Main Street Café, a restaurant where the waitresses greet all the regulars by their first names.

Henscratch Farms produces wine from Muscadines and Scuppernongs (a large type of Muscadine that’s greenish-yellow in color and has a honey-like taste). They also produce a Strawberry Blush wine that tastes just like strawberry candy, and a Country Blueberry wine that is surprisingly not too sweet, with a fresh blueberry taste on the finish.

Everything is grown on the 20 acre farm that’s open to the public. Visitors can pick the hydroponically-grown strawberries December through March, the blueberries in April and May and the grapes in August and September.

The farm is also home to approximately 200 hens and roosters that wander freely among the vines. Just like the fruit, you can pick your own eggs from the chicken coop; if you’re not as adventurous they’re also sold at the farm’s country store.

The tasting bar is located inside the country store, a building constructed in the old cracker style. It features a raised floor, sliding barn doors and an open breezeway. The look is completed with a few rocking chairs on the front porch.

The first wine I tried was the Golden Sunrise which is made with Scuppernong grapes. It has a strong aroma of Scuppernong – musky and very sweet. I was expecting a strong sweet taste but instead it was surprisingly and pleasantly dry. The sweet taste of the Scuppernong grapes comes out in the Country White. This wine was awarded Best in Show for Florida white wines at the 2008 Florida State Fair. Henscratch Farms’ winemaker suggests pairing this with chicken salad, roast port or catfish. To me it was too sweet to have with dinner; I thought it would be great as an aperitif or dessert wine.

The red wines are also served chilled. The Red Sunset is made with Muscadine grapes. It’s dry with a nice mild taste of Muscadine and red plum. A slightly sweeter red is the Country Walk, which was awarded Best in Show for Florida red wines at the state fair. It’s smooth with the taste of red berries. The sweetest red is the Country Red. It’s fruity and sugary with a warm finish, like an adult version of fruit punch. Rounding out the reds is the Foot Stomped 2007. Like its name indicates, the Muscadine grapes are stomped by foot by visitors at the “annual grape stomp.” I thought it would be fun to taste something that visitors helped to make. I then thought about all their feet and had second thoughts. The wine though was not bad. It was semi-sweet with a nice grapey taste. It would be a fun wine to drink chilled at a picnic or afternoon barbecue.

If you like the taste of Muscadines and Scuppernong but don’t like them in wine, Henscratch Farms uses them to make very tasty cider. It’s 100% juice blended with sugar and spice. There’s also blueberry, blackberry and strawberry cider for sale in the country store, along with grape seed oil, jellies and hot sauces.

For more information on Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery visit their website.

Click here for a map of Florida’s wineries.