For years I would pass by Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards driving along Highway 27 or the Florida Turnpike. I’d look at that building up on the hill and think about the acres and acres of orange groves that once filled the landscape. But several years of hard freezes took their toll on the citrus industry and paved the way for a new venture: vineyards and wine.
History of Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards
Lakeridge opened its doors in Clermont in February 1989, along the hills of what is known as the Lake Wales Ridge – a ridge of sand running about 150 miles north and south through the center of the state. In the early 90s another company-owned vineyard (Lafayette Vineyards in Tallahassee) merged with Lakeridge in Clermont, quickly increased its production, and became Florida’s largest winery.
A walk around the grounds turns up some remarkable sights: lush green grapevines bearing the fruits of labor, rolling hills that make you think you are not in Florida, and if you’re lucky, a closeup view of sandhill cranes.
The winery sits on a 127-acre estate, of which about 75 acres are planted with several varieties of Muscadine grapes used in both their red and white wines. Believe it or not, the grapes grown at Lakeridge are not enough to provide all they need. To make up for it, they contract out to some local growers who also specialize in the same grapes.
In all, Lakeridge produces about 100,000 cases of wine a year, which if you’re good at math, adds up to more than one million bottles!
Tours and Tasting
So, how do the grapes get from the vines to the bottles? That’s a question that’s answered on the complimentary tours offered seven days a week. Those tours and the wine tasting afterward are probably the biggest draws to Lakeridge.
The tour begins upstairs in a small theatre where you watch a short video about wine making in Florida, the history of the winery and the family that started it all, the Cox family. Afterwards, a tour guide leads you along a catwalk overlooking the production area, where you see where the wine is made, bottled, and packaged.
A stop out on the balcony provides a breathtaking view of the vineyard.
What’s the purpose of seeing how the wine is made without actually getting to taste it? A large u-shaped tasting counter downstairs is lined with empty wine glasses and taste testing sheets to record your thoughts about the wines you sample. Instruction is given about how to hold the glass properly and how to swirl the wine around. Then, one by one, you are led through a tasting extravaganza of seven different wines.
In all, the tour and tasting take about 50 minutes to complete. Once you’re done, you get a chance to walk through the gift shop, peruse the wine accessories and gourmet foods, and purchase the wines you just tasted.
Festivals and Events at Lakeridge
Besides the tours, festivals and events fill the winery’s calendar. Music series, a holiday open house, benefit concerts and harvest festivals offer plenty of entertainment opportunities. One of the biggest events is the Annual Harvest Grape Stomp in August which offers up some good old fashioned grape stomping competition.
The large outdoor space and stage provide the perfect backdrop for the events. It’s estimated that more than 160,000 people visit Lakeridge Winery every year.
Besides Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards in Clermont, the Cox family owns another winery in St. Augustine. San Sebastian opened in 1996 and is now the second largest winery in Florida.
Lakeridge is just north of Clermont on U.S. 27 and is open seven days a week. Hours on Monday through Saturday are 10am to 5pm and on Sunday from 11am to 5pm.