Photos by Kelsey & Scott Walters
Considering Florida’s reputation as a tourist trap, you don’t often think of the state’s agricultural business when you cite the state’s popular attractions and money-makers. Sure, we obviously have our citrus industry as a cash cow, and you-pick blueberry season is increasingly popular in the spring.
I bet you don’t conjure up sprawling vineyards when you imagine Floridian agriculture, however. You may not realize you could have your own little “vineyard” growing right in your backyard.
Spring Garden Vineyard, DeLeon Springs
Muscadine grapes are a native grapevine species that can be found growing throughout the southeastern and south-central United States. Check your yards for this sneaky little vine, they can spring up just about anywhere there’s foliage! I’ve often spotted them growing along the interstate in the tree line as well.
Muscadines are nothing new, either. Florida’s sunny climate creates the perfect conditions for these little beauties to grow. They’ve been heavily cultivated since around the 16th century and can be used to make all sorts of delicious recipes, including wine (Hello! Now I have your attention!).
Spring Garden Vineyard in DeLeon Springs takes care of the growing and makes cultivating easy for you. The Lennon family has been at Spring Garden for nearly 10 years, and families come back year after year to grab their favorite Florida fruit. With an annual rotation of grape varieties, there is something to suit everyone’s taste and they’re ripe for the picking. With five varieties on the vines right now, you have plenty to choose from. A few are available to pick on site, but if you’re looking for something in particular, you can bring home a bucket of pre-picked grapes as well. You can sample each variety before heading out to pick, so you know exactly what you’d like to forage for.
We visited on a bright and warm afternoon, so be sure to slap on some sunscreen and dress appropriately. Closed-toe shoes are best for traipsing the vineyard. Everything else you need for picking, like buckets and bags to bring your treasure home, will be provided. Much of the vineyard has two levels of vines on each row, and Avery quickly got to work plucking (and occasionally sampling) the fruit from the lower vines. Even little hands can easily reach and pick the grapes, which are much larger and firmer than what you find at the grocery store.
They are also high in antioxidants and can range from lighter bronze shades to deep, almost black, shades of purple. Their firm skin helps them freeze well, so you can pick in bulk to last you well past the end of the season.
A half-gallon bucket is approximately 2.75 pounds, and a full is around 5.5 pounds. It’s easy to fill a bucket up quickly, but I promise these tasty treats won’t go to waste! What survived from snacking on the way home was made into a delicious full-flavored grape juice that was surprisingly easy to make right at home. I found countless recipes for pies, jellies and even grape butter (thank you, Pinterest!)
If you aren’t a DIY person, or maybe you’re searching for a little inspiration, Spring Garden also sells their own ready-made jellies, jams and butters. After picking in the sun, you can head back in with your haul and grab a refreshing muscadine snow cone or popsicle to cool off. Besides the sampling, this was definitely Avery’s favorite part of the day.
We met families who were there to load up on their favorite late-summer snack by the bucketful. Others were there to pick for their own stash of wine – one couple makes 10 gallons each year! If you’re interested in getting into the wine hobby, visit local winemaking shops like Southern Homebrew Wine and Beer Supply in Edgewater to get started with kits and educational materials.
If all this tasty goodness sounds like the perfect way to wrap up your summer, don’t wait! Get to picking now, because just like any produce, the season is limited. The grapes will be around until about the third week of September so get to picking! You’ll probably find us there refilling our buckets. This just may be the best grape you’ve never tasted.
SPRING GARDEN VINEYARD
Hours and Pricing:
Fri – Sun: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
½ Gallon Buckets: $8 / Gallon Buckets: $13
Pre-picked Gallon Buckets: $18
Snow Cones and Popsicles: $3 / Jellies and Butters: $7 – $8