Long before William Shakespeare was born, French Huguenots and Spanish monks were making wine in Florida. Today, like those pioneers who came before them, the winemakers at San Sebastian Winery carry on a tradition that is over 450 years old. Using native Muscadine grapes, and more recently developed Florida hybrids, they craft their wines using age-old methods for today’s wine lovers. The result is wines made for food and fun.
Established in 1996, San Sebastian Winery is owned and operated by the Cox family, long time grape growers, winemakers, and pioneers in the Florida grape and wine industry. San Sebastian is also a sister to Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont, Florida where the grapes for both wineries are grown and crushed.
San Sebastian Winery in St. Augustine
Overlooking the San Sebastian River, from which the winery gets its name, and just steps away from the downtown historic district of St. Augustine, San Sebastian Winery’s location is both symbolic of Florida wine history and the perfect spot for wine tasting.
The winery comprises 18,000 square feet, one third of which is a circa 1923 Florida East Coast Railway building. San Sebastian’s warehouse has a 40,000-gallon wine storage capacity that includes both 5000-gallon stainless steel tanks and 52-gallon oak barrels. The winery also features a retail shop and tasting room, another tasting room for overflow and private groups, and a rooftop wine bar called The Cellar Upstairs where local musicians perform on the weekends.
A visit to San Sebastian Winery can take a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on how long you browse, shop, and taste. Although there are no vineyards to see, the rooftop view is fabulous, and you should definitely take the free wine tour.
San Sebastian Winery Tours
Beginning and ending in the retail shop, the tour takes about 45 minutes and includes an introductory video on Florida wine history. Knowledgeable guides offer insights on grape cultivation and wine production and they are happy to answer your questions. You’ll see production facilities where they bottle the port and cream sherry, storage tanks and barrels where they age the port, and there are a number of historical wine production artifacts along the way.
Tours are offered daily starting at 10:00 a.m. (11:00 a.m. on Sunday) and run about every 20 minutes with the last tour leaving at 5:00 p.m. You do not have to reserve a spot ahead of time.
Wine Tasting at San Sebastian Winery
However, the best part is the tasting. Your guide will walk you through the intricacies of several wines, what grapes are used, how they’re made, and what foods are best to pair them with. He or she will also give you some fun ideas like putting frozen fruit in your wine to keep it cool, and you can ask to try something not on the tasting list, as long as it’s in stock.
The Cellar Upstairs – But Wait There’s More
On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays San Sebastian’s rooftop venue, The Cellar Upstairs, rocks the winery with live music and wines and beers served by the glass. Lunch is available starting at 11:30 a.m. with a menu that includes appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and meat and cheese platters. The Cellar Upstairs is open Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Thursday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Before you leave, be sure to check out the retail store for take-home items and gifts. Of course, there’s wine, so you’ll want to add several bottles of your favorite to your cart, but you’ll also find unique glassware, cookbooks, tee-shirts, wine storage and gadgets, jams and jellies, and dips, dressings, and desserts.
San Sebastian’s tag line is “Enjoy a taste of history.” With America’s first city just around the corner, you can certainly do that.
San Sebastian Winery is open daily Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Wine tasting is free. Call 904-826-1594 or toll free 1-888-352-9463 for more information.
~ Happy Wine Trails!