In July this year, I left Orlando and flew all the way to Napa Valley in California to see its world-renowned vineyards. Little did I know that Florida had its own winery, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards. I only learned about it when I was working on the Top 15 Free Things to do in Orlando. Thankfully on the day I decided to go, they were hosting an event ‘Corks for Cancer Festival’. I couldn’t think of a better reason for going. So off we went, me and my sister’s family from North Carolina, on Saturday 13th September 2014.
We were greeted by teenaged volunteers sporting a neon green vest as they directed traffic. I was surprised to see the slope fronting Lakeridge was already crawling with cars and vans. I was afraid there won’t be many people but the turnout actually looked good. We were herded off to a golf cart and dropped by the main lodge. We could have walked the few meters’ distance but the cart was a nice afterthought to keep us from getting burned in the midday sun.
We joined the queue for the wine tasting. As expected I was asked for my identification card. I look like a 14-year-old (worse, sometimes mistaken as a 12-year-old), you know esp. in the western world. I’m already used to it. I just smiled and teased the lady that I was already old as I handed over my passport. The first wine we tasted was called Sunblush, a concoction of Muscadine grapes mixed in a blush style. It tasted nice surprisingly, almost like a regular grape juice. Now, you must understand I’m not a drinker although I’m not totally opposed to drinking.
I’m a Christian but I don’t mind my friends drinking a glass of red or white wine occasionally. But personally I just can’t seem to tolerate the taste of wine. Despite that, I utterly love the sight of vineyards. Seeing the endless rows of trellises teeming with grapes just takes my breath away. I even dream of living in a small cottage (yup, not necessarily a massive house) surrounded by a vineyard and apple orchard. Just dreaming.
Mercifully, it was okay for us to jump the queues for the wine tasting. There were at least six stops for all sorts of wines but we managed to skip at least three. I wasn’t queuing for the wines anyway, I just wanted to look inside. In contrast to the wineries I visited in the Sonoma and Napa counties, the Lakeridge Winery does not use oak barrels. Instead they use gigantic steel fermentation tanks, making it easier for them to control the temperature considering the tropical summer heat of Florida. We were then directed to the gift shop selling bottles of wine and a wide array of souvenirs. After a few minutes, we were led to a room upstairs for a 15-minute video presentation of Lakeridge’s history and their wine-making process. Quite an educational and informative tool I must say.
Next, we were led outside for a glimpse and photo-op of the 127-acre vineyard behind the lodge. We then walked back through the gift shop to pay the $2 donation for the benefit of Moffitt Cancer Center. Mature shady oak trees provided a much needed canopy over the entertainment area. The Groovemasters band was currently performing on stage while on the right, food stalls lined the wall of the lodge. A number of arts and crafts kiosks stood on the lawn, bustling with activity. Overall, it was a well-organized charity event. I wish though they’d improve the quality of the food being sold.
Located in Central Florida Ridge, a thriving agricultural center, the Cox family started planting grapes on the rolling hills of Clermont in 1989. Today, Lakeridge Winery is considered Florida’s largest and offers complimentary tours lasting 45 minutes. Entrance is free and they are open every day, Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm and Sunday, 11am – 5pm. It is approximately 25 miles west of Orlando on Highway 50, and 30 miles north of Walt Disney World via U.S. 27. The drive takes about an hour and a half from Carrier Drive in Orlando. Lakeridge Winery hosts festivals and events throughout the year, check here for details.