Florida wine with an Italian flair
TBO.comWhen you visit the website for Rosa Fiorelli Winery in Bradenton, "Volare," sung by famous Italian-American crooner Dean Martin, plays.
Published: November 28, 2012
Published: November 28, 2012
So it only seems fitting that when you visit the Rosa Fiorelli Winery for a tasting on a sunny, breezy day, you enter the small store and that song plays again, along with famous Frank Sinatra songs.
As you complete your tasting with co-owner Antonio Fiorelli — who seems to laser in on what kind of wine you'll ultimately buy — co-owner Rosa Fiorelli comes by and talks about her use of wine in her preparation of a Thanksgiving turkey. Children play outside, and customers make pleasant small talk. The whole experience has a charming, family feel.
It seems fitting that Antonio and Rosa, a husband-and-wife team originally from Casteldaccia, Sicily, would capitalize on their Italian heritage at their farm winery near Lake Manatee — and manage to combine it with some Floridian charm.
When I walked in for a tasting, Antonio Fiorelli had on a cap that said "Italia." In addition to the Italian-themed music, there was a map of Sicily hanging on the wall. If you stay for lunch, your choices include a stromboli and Italian deli sandwiches. You get the idea — molto bene.
The Fiorellis, formerly in the restaurant business in Bradenton and Miami, decided to start a commercial winery in 1998. At that time, the property where their winery sits "was like a jungle," Antonio Fiorelli said. It was hard to imagine that they could have a vineyard there. However, he and his wife saw some similarities between Florida's land and the land in their native country, which is how the idea of a vineyard came to mind.
The Fiorellis collaborated with the University of Florida and Florida A&M University to develop grapes that could be grown in the area. Of course, they use the muscadine grape associated with many wineries in Florida. However, they also use hybrid versions. The winery now has their main 10-acre vineyard and five acres elsewhere. Its designation as a farm winery means they produce and sell the wine on site.
The business has grown slowly — they produced 800 gallons their first year, and they recently made five times that amount in one year, Antonio Fiorelli said. They also have won more than 100 awards for their wines.
Still, Antonio Fiorelli considers it a constant challenge to show people that great wine can be made in Florida.
"When you think of Florida, you think of the beach, the white sand and the strawberries. Nobody thinks of grapes here," he said.
That said, there has been some fledgling recognition of the wine market in the state, thanks to word of mouth and promotion from the state's Department of Agriculture. "There's been a very slow growth," he said. "People are still skeptical."
The winery produces about a dozen different wine varieties on a seasonal basis, including dry, semi-dry, and sweet. You've got to follow your taste buds, and mine favor sweet, so I bought a bottle of the white muscadine dessert wine after I tasted seven or eight choices.
The winery also expands its business through an onsite pavilion for weddings and special events — a growing market, according to Antonio Fiorelli. They also do tours, the wine tastings, lunches, dinners, and special events such as a Holiday Fest that will take place on Saturday, Dec. 8. The menu is, of course, Italian, and will feature locally-grown food prepared by Manatee Technical Institute's Culinary Arts Program.
As the winery is a family-run business, the owners prefer that you book lunches and tours in advance.