There’s a saying among wine makers that old vines make great wines. If that’s the case, making wines from vines planted in the 1970s has certainly been rewarding for Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery. One of Florida’s oldest wineries, Chautauqua Vineyards’ estate wines reflect both the origins and the future of America’s wine industry.
The name Chautauqua comes from the Florida Chautauqua Center, the arts, education and cultural association that makes its home in the small Panhandle town of DeFuniak Springs, Florida. The vineyard grows Muscadine grapes on 40 acres north of town and operates a wine production facility and tasting room south of town, just off Interstate 10.
Hearty and native to Florida and the southeast, Muscadine vines resist some of the usual pests and problems associated with European varieties. The grapes are also sweeter by nature and offer a range of possibilities for winemakers like George Cowie.
“The estate wines are made from two traditional Muscadine grapes, Carlos and Noble,” says George. “We also make dessert wines, sherry and port from these grapes and have been having some fun with different flavors. It’s something interesting to play with.”
Something to play with, indeed. George and his crew have experimented with pure Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and a select blend of pure cacao beans to create a flavorful vanilla sherry and a dark, earthy chocolate port. George says they are both interesting wines that hold their own at the dessert table.
Other Chautauqua wines include Noble and Carlos, several blends, fruit wines such as blueberry and blackberry, and a sparkling wine. They also make Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from grapes trucked in from the north or from fresh juices.
Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery has a 75,000-gallon capacity and produces about 10,000 to 11,000 cases of wine annually. With their Europress, the largest press of its kind east of the Rockies, they also do custom crushing for other vineyards and make wines for private labels. Chautauqua wines are produced under two labels, Chautauqua for the Muscadine wines and Emerald for other wines.
Emerald refers to Emerald Coast Wine Cellars, Chautauqua’s sister winery located in Miramar Beach, about 35 miles south of DeFuniak Springs on the gulf coast. The two wineries have created a working relationship that suits the capabilities of both locations. Chautauqua Vineyards makes all the wines for both wineries and Emerald Coast Wine Cellars makes all the gift baskets.
Visitors to Chatauqua’s production facilities can get a bird’s-eye view of the wine making process from a room overlooking the stainless steel fermenting tanks. A continuously running video shows winemaking from vines to bottle, including harvest, crush, and fermentation. This is all part of the complimentary winery tour. During harvest (August to September) visitors can see the grapes arriving at the winery and going through crush.
Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery
364 Hugh Adams Road
DeFuniak Springs, Florida 32435
Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Take Exit 85 off I-10 and go north to the first traffic light. Turn right, then right again onto Hugh Adams Road. Follow the road around to the winery.