Southwest Florida: The Place for Sunshine and Winemaking
By Jane Staley Boaz
If I asked a wine connoisseur whether quality wines are made in Naples, she might pause, consider the Campania wine region that surrounds Naples, Italy, and offer an opinion on Taurasi or Fiano di Avelino, a few prominent wines from that area. If I then explained I meant Naples, Florida, she’d likely furrow her brow, scoff and mumble something to the effect that I may be a few bottles short of a case.
Admittedly, I was doubtful of the plausibility of a worthy winemaking enterprise in South Florida when Mitch Norgart, Naples businessman and an avid supporter of Naples Winemaking, invited me to take a tour. But this skeptic is here to say that tasty, satisfying wines are indeed being made on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Mitch and board member Mike Myers led the tour and introduced me to Naples Winemaking founders, Joe Nardini and Joe Palmisano. These partners are clearly absorbed in their art, smitten with the results and gratified by the high praise their wines garner.
Located in an unlikely spot- a palm tree dotted office park in Naples, Florida- Naples Winemaking is housed in a typical boxy office building. To be clear, we did not stroll through acres of well pruned vineyards checking fruit and brix measurements- for that experience we’d have to travel to California or Argentina where Naples Winemaking purchases their grapes. The fruit is harvested in prime growing regions and quickly shipped to Naples in refrigerated cargo containers.
My tour began in the temperature controlled barrel storage room where winemaker Jim Caldwell generously opened seven different American oak barrels and drew out a sampling from each. I tasted a subtle Bordeaux blend, a peppy merlot, a robust cabernet-cabernet franc and several hardy zinfandels. Each was a palette pleasing treat and a testament to the adage “where there’s a (wine-inspired) will, there’s a way.” The juice is stored and aged in this room until Jim determines it has reached peak flavor.
The crusher, bottling equipment and a social area fill a room across the hall. On the back wall, there’s an industrial garage door through which semi-trucks unload their fruity freight.
The simplicity of the facilities and tools underscores the uncomplicated nature of winemaking. The Naples Winemaking team believes offering unique experiences and educating clients about wine production will make wine tasting and selection more user-friendly endeavors, and will in turn lead to increased wine appreciation and enjoyment.
So just what does this wine-loving, wine-making team offer? First, they provide other wine enthusiasts a hands-on opportunity to create their own wines. Naples Winemaking clients, including chefs, restaurateurs, corporations, charitable organizations and individual consumers, may purchase barrels of wine made at the facility. Clients first select the grape varietal or blend for their wine. They participate in the crush and, afterwards, follow their juice through fermentation, barrel aging, bottling, corking and custom labeling of the finished product. The entire process takes about one year. Prices vary depending upon the type of grapes selected as well as market conditions such as supply and demand and transportation costs.
For clients with a more immediate need, Naples Winemaking keeps an inventory of bottled wine to which clients can affix their personal labels. These bottles are often used as party favors at weddings, corporate holiday gifts, or a novel gift for wine quaffing friends and family.
While I toured Naples Winemaking, a group of fifteen employees from a local company, Arthrex Corporation, explored the facility and walked through the wine making process. They participated in the bottling, corking and labeling steps as a team building exercise. Not only did the group enjoy sampling the wines and learning about winemaking, each member left with several bottles adorned with a customized label to commemorate their collaborative effort.
Other events held at Naples Winemaking, according to Mike Myers, have included wedding showers and engagement parties, dinner club gatherings, women’s club meetings and professional group outings. The list of occasions and celebrations held at the winery is likely to grow as word of Naples Winemaking spreads throughout the Southwest Florida community.
It’s apparent that South Florida, famous for year round sunshine, has a bright future in winemaking as well.
For more information, visit www.napleswinemaking.com.