In about an hour drive south from downtown Miami, once you’ve turned off the highway and found yourself on a long country road, you’re greeted with acres of farmland. The tempo seems to slow down and the sights around you are of flat, green fields; lush, sturdy palms; and a giant blue sky with cumulous clouds floating lazily in the upper strata. This is Redland, Miami’s countryside and the gateway to the national parks. To the west are the Everglades and to the east is Biscayne National Park.
This is where Miami residents come for wide open spaces, to commune with nature and to extract themselves from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s also the heartland of Miami’s farm to table culinary movement, where many top chefs forage for local produce, like strawberries, honey and tomatoes.
In the heart of this farmland stands Schnebly Winery, a massive estate with a novel, subtropical approach to winemaking. Instead of producing wines with grapes, Peter Schnebly, a farmer, packager and founder of the winery, creates wines out of indigenous tropical fruit. Think, mangos, lychee, passion fruit, guava, star fruit, coconut and even avocado.
As a boy growing up in New York’s Finger Lakes wine country, Schnebly worked in vineyards since the age of 13. However, he always dreamed of living near the Florida Keys and “where Flipper is from.” He made the move to South Florida in the mid-90s and began working with Homestead’s farmers through his fruit packing business, Fresh King. He eventually went on to grow fruit, buying up 100 acres of farmland. Frustrated with the idea of throwing away fruit with blemishes that wouldn’t sell at the market, he consulted boutique winemaker Bill Wagner, and the rest is history. He produced his first wine in 2004 and the winery has flourished ever since. He recently fulfilled a long held dream of adding craft beer to the business and his Miami Brewing Company, which shares real estate with the winery, produced its first batch in February 2012.
A Visit to the Winery
The winery is built in a vernacular architectural style, using materials found in abundance in South Florida’s environment, such as limestone walls and a thatch palm roof. The front façade is reminiscent of a Napa winery, in a grand Colonial Revival style with columns and a shaded portico. The pathway leading up to the front door is lined with grand palms and purple flowers with a bubbling, tiered fountain at the centerpiece. Across the street, the vineyard stretches on, shaded by blossoming royal Poinciana trees. Inside, the tasting room opens up to a lushly landscaped courtyard complete with a waterfall.
It’s Schnebly’s idea of tropical paradise. “It’s an escape from normal life, cell phones, traffic, noise pollution, cement,” he explains.
Guided tours of the winery and brewery are available on the weekends and by appointment. On Friday and Saturday nights, Schnebly hosts parties with live music. Crowds upwards of 1,500 find a place amidst picnic tables in the open air to enjoy the tropical fruit wine, craft beer and snacks from the onsite deli.
The tasting room is open seven days a week to sample a selection of five wines from their portfolio of 22 varieties, which are designated as sweet, off dry and dry. With each, you’ll notice a hint of the source fruit, combined with familiar wine properties. The Mango Wine has the texture of a Chardonnay with mango flavors at the front of your palate. The Avovino, made from avocado, has a crisp texture with a citrus nose, and a young, green flavor reminiscent of avocados. On the sweeter side of the spectrum, there’s Guava, Lychee and Carambola (star fruit). They also have blended varieties with the Cat 2 and Cat 3 Hurricane blends. If you’re in the mood for something bubbly, try the semi-sweet Sparkling Lychee or Sparkling Passion. The tasting is $9.95 and includes the commemorative glass to take home. If you return with the glass, your tasting is only $5.
Once you’ve figured out your favorite tropical fruit wine, order a full glass and enjoy in the courtyard. Be sure to purchase a bottle to take home with you, and if you’re a true aficionado, they offer a club, like many wineries, where you receive a variety of different bottles delivered to your home throughout the year.
The newest facet to Schnebly Winery is the Miami Brewing Company. Craft beer has taken off across the country and Miami is keeping pace. Schnebly has some amazing one-of-a-kind beers to choose from, including the Big Rod Coconut Ale, Shark Attack Wheat Ale, Speedway Pale Ale and the Gator Tail Brown Ale. You’ll enjoy each of these in a tasting, plus a pint glass filled with your favorite for only $10. Want to take some of these delicious suds home with you? Ask for a 32-ounce growler poured from the tap and sealed for freshness. Once you open it, you have two to three days to enjoy. The beer is also on tap at a number of South Florida establishments, including Burger & Beer Joint in South Beach and Brickell, and Coconut Grove’s LoKal Bar.
Wine, beer and the lush subtropics; we think Peter Schnebly got it right with Schnebly Winery.
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