Days of Wine and Jellies

Along with grapes, this Southeast Florida winery uses unexpected ingredients to produce “au naturel” vino.

Ever tried sweet yellow onion wine? Cherry tomato wine? Wine made from hot jalapeños, bananas, oranges or limes? Visitors to Bunker Hill Winery can sample these and other astonishing flavors, along with the usual “routine” whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines.

“This is how wine was originally made, using ingredients from the farm or otherwise naturally grown,” notes Larry Woodham, who along with his wife, Lenora, purchased the property and established the vineyard near Parrish, Florida several years before starting to bottle in 2009. They opened their doors a year later.  “Many wineries have gotten into mass-producing, importing their grapes and using filtration equipment such as micropores, membranes and sheets – think coffee filters ­– to speed things up.”  Along with growing their own grapes, the Woodhams only purchase ingredients from Florida farmers, “whatever’s in season” so when they are out, they are out.

Bunker Hill wines remain unfiltered, utilizing a yearlong, labor-intensive process that involves manual racking and taking advantage of the natural force of gravity, allowing sediment to settle and create clarity.  Even corking is done by hand, and to ensure triple freshness, bottles are sealed with wax and then capped, “so that unlike other wines which may go bad after a certain amount of time, our flavors actually improve with age,” continues Larry. Along with retaining the health benefits from the various ingredients, they are also vegan and gluten-free.

While it’s not always easy being environmentally friendly, the Woodhams seem to have mastered that particular art form. In addition to being certified as a Florida Farm Winery by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) – among other requirements, at least 60 percent of the wine must be made from Florida agricultural products (“Ours are something like 97 percent,” observes Larry). Bunker Hill wine has garnered the nickname “Greenest Wine in America.”

“In 2011, the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce awarded us with Green Certification at the Master Level,” added Lenora.

Anchored by a Midwestern-style farmhouse with the processing and tasting areas located in WWII-era Quonset huts, Bunker Hill aims to be a full-service winery, offering snacks; accessories, including posters with cats (a natural pairing); and an intriguing assortment of jams and jellies. The latter are not for the diet-conscious though: “They are made with cane sugar so they are naturally sweet,” notes Leonora. A recent visit with a group of friends revealed an interest almost equal to that of the wines.

Understanding that their clientele is experimenting beyond their usual flavor boundaries, the Woodhams are generous with samples and tastings. They offer nearly a dozen (very) small tastes for a nominal fee. A bonus, “Larry’s choice,” is usually a home run thanks to his in-depth knowledge of the wines and sense of what each customer prefers based on their original selections. So while one visitor might enthuse over the Gator Tale (!) elderberry wine, another might enjoy the bamboo leaf herbal tea vintage. Few if any leave without purchasing at least one bottle plus a jar of preserves.

Over the years, the Woodhams have built up a loyal clientele and do a brisk mail order business. Because everything is recycled, they encourage their customers to send back or physically return containers and corks.  “Many of them do, saving them from the landfill,” says Lenora,. The Woodhams are also constantly experimenting and reinventing. They recently received approval from the State of Florida to bottle their wines in 12-ounce beer bottles, adding a new twist to the road-trip anthem “99 bottles of [pumpkin] wine on the wall.”

And while getting there requires a drive in the country – and a reminder that aside from the seasons, Ohio and parts of Florida can have similar topography and yes, even farm animals – a visit to Bunker Hill serves as a reminder that indeed, simpler can be better.

If you go:  Located about 40 minutes from the Sarasota/Bradenton area and about an hour from Tampa, the address is 8905 Bunker Hill Rd. Duette, FL 34219, phone (941) 776-0418, Hours:  Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00am – 5:00pm, Thursday 11:00am – 3:30pm, closed Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tastings are $6 per person (with purchase) with a variety of snack trays for a minimal added cost.

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