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Local Spotlight—Island Grove Wine Company

Natural Times, October/November/December 2015

By Michele Hatton

On a recent August evening, I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a bottle of chilled blueberry wine with my husband on our front porch. We were watching the sun dip behind the trees—a final reprieve from an intolerably hot day—when I poured out two glasses of wine the color of deep cobalt. We took a sip and instantly felt the crushing heat slip away. Like Lazarus, we returned to the living, refreshed and revived. Before the earth had spun that fractional distance to complete and total darkness, we had polished off the bottle.

“Sorta Sweet Blueberry Wine” is what turned a toilsome day into a pleasurable evening. The Florida-owned Island Grove Wine Company, whose parent company, Island Grove Ag Products, owns the plantation and grows the blueberries, produces the wine. Their attention to quality makes their blueberry wines so outstanding. Only the freshest of blueberries are used, and they are handpicked (two million pounds each year!) to prevent bruising and keep skins intact. (Machines are employed only at the very end of harvest.) A blueberry is a delicate thing; it needs to be coddled. Cohesive skins, of which blueberry wine is fermented, give wines their distinct color and aroma. A wine made from fresh undamaged berries is destined for deliciousness.

Island Grove blueberry wines contain no additional flavorings. One hundred percent blueberry, they are very low in sulfites and made from a combination of organically and conventionally grown berries.

So, just where is Island Grove? Southeast of Gainesville and adjacent to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek with a population less than 500. Like the Rawlings property, the blueberry plantation has a cracker house framed by 20 live oaks. The historical town of Island Grove has been an agricultural hub since it was settled in 1882. Island Grove Ag Products is simply carrying on the tradition. It is now one of the biggest suppliers of blueberries in Florida from March to May, with 400 hundred acres planted and another 400 left wild. One hundred acres are dedicated to organic production, which makes Island Grove Ag Products the biggest supplier of organic blueberries in Florida.

If you are ever in the area, plan on visiting the winery. Be sure to check out the Island Grove Wine Company Tasting House. You can sample the wines, take a tour of the winery and meet the winemaker. Right down a dirt road is the blueberry plantation, which you are welcomed to visit as well.

One unique feature of this company is its choice of bushes. If you’ve picked blueberries in Tallahassee, you know that high picking season is June through July. At Island Grove, harvest is in March and April. Sarah Aschliman, General Manager for the winery, explains, “We worked with the University of Florida (UF) breeding and research program (IFAS) and use a patented variety of southern highbush blueberries from UF. They are cultivated from wild strains of blueberries and, in this climate, can become ripe in March and April.” Island Grove and other parts of the Florida blueberry industry are marketing their berries before other states are even fruiting.

The company reminds us of the extensive, research-based health benefits of “the mighty blueberry:” antioxidants, vitamin C, dietary fiber... The list is long and getting longer. So, to stay mentally and physically healthy, welcome in the fall with a glass of blue happiness.

New Leaf carries two Island Grove wines: Sorta Sweet Blueberry wine and Blueberry Moscato wine—a blend of Muscat grapes with ripe blueberries. Other wines available around Florida boast classic Florida cracker names: Bold Blackberry, Rustic Raspberry and Backporch Peach.

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