GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida farmers and other businesspeople are bubbling with enthusiasm to make wine.
There are about 40 wineries around Florida. Further, as of 2017 (the most recent year for which there’s data), growers in the Sunshine State were producing over 1,500 acres of muscadine grapes. That’s a 74% increase in 10 years, and producers are harvesting soon – in July and August.
To meet the increasing market for Florida-grown grapes, Ali Sarkhosh, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences, tries to grow varieties bred by scientists at Florida A&M University, the University of Georgia and the University of California, Davis.
Sarkhosh conducts his grape research at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit (PSREU) in Citra, between Gainesville and Ocala.
“Florida’s mild winter climate and early spring season offer unique opportunities for early-season, fresh-market muscadines, a few weeks ahead of Georgia and North Carolina,” Sarkhosh said.
Farmers in those two states grow muscadine grapes and deliver them to supermarkets in August, September and October.
“We are evaluating the performance of newly bred muscadine grapes — developed by the University of Georgia — to generate practical information on their productivity, berry quality and suitability for the Florida production window,” Sarkhosh said.
As with any crop, UF/IFAS scientists must protect against pathogens. Pierce’s disease presents the primary enemy for growing muscadine grapes in Florida, due mainly to the warm, humid climate.
In June 2021, Sarkhosh started a trial to evaluate the performance of UC-Davis cultivars to see if they tolerate Pierce’s disease pressure in Florida’s climate. Results remain incomplete on that trial.
“We also have a block of Chenin blanc, a white wine grape variety, for our research on cultural production optimization,” Sarkhosh said.
Want to learn how to grow grapes and about how to make wine from the fruit? Here’s your chance. UF/IFAS will host its fourth annual Grape Field Day on August 18 at the PSREU.
Sarkhosh will present some of his grape-growing data at a walk-and-talk at the PSREU research field. He sees a bright future for grape growing in Florida.
Also as part of the activities at the Grape Field Day, Andrew MacIntosh, an assistant professor of food science, will show participants how to make wine.
“This will be a quick demonstration of winemaking, accompanied by the theory of fermentation,” MacIntosh said of his workshop. “The goal is to dispel myths and to answer any questions participants may have concerning the winemaking process.”
In conducting his grape research and Extension program, Sarkhosh works with the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research at Florida A&M University.
The deadline to register for the Grape Field Day is August 12.
–Brad Buck, UF/IFAS