One of those places you find just off the highway, Chautauqua Vineyards is something you don’t expect to find along I-10 in the Florida Panhandle. I first noticed the sign several years ago on my way back home for a visit. The next trip I took was, unfortunately, for my grandfather’s funeral, but on the way back I wasn’t in a big hurry so turned off at Exit 85 purely out of curiosity.
The Winery is a medium-sized building on a hill that you get to by a service road–it’s not hard to find. They offer both “tours” and tastings as well as a full retail shop. The tour is actually a 3 minute video in their viewing room that overlooks the huge tanks, etc. that make up the main operations there at the winery. But don’t skip that room just because you don’t get to actually walk though the vines: it’s a good place to start your shopping. Lots of little wine knick-knacks interspersed between various sizes and shapes of wine racks, wine totes and picnic baskets. I was sorely tempted by one of the very cool baskets that featured real glass and stoneware (no plastic!), including 4 petite wine glasses.
Follow the hallway around and you will end up in the tasting room. On my first visit back in the early aughts they charged for tastings but now apparently it’s free to taste as many wines as you like. Most of their wines are made from local muscadine grapes which are incredibly sweet and many don’t like the taste of. Even if you fall into the anti-muscadine camp, give their fruit wines a try–the blueberry is very good but the blackberry is absolutely outstanding! Even people who don’t like wine actually like the blackberry. They also have some wines that are made from Concord grapes and their Sunset Red is quite palatable. On this last visit we tasted their Vanilla Sherry and, even though it was tasty, I already had a bottle of their Chocolate Port (yes, really) at home so we passed on picking up a bottle of the fortified this time around.
Next to the tasting room, which has it’s own trinkets to browse through, is the main retail room including the racks and racks of wine and a lot of glassware, wine accessories and other accoutrements of wine culture. Among the items I’ve picke up there are novelty pastas, cocktail napkins with a variety of pithy sayings, bottle decorations, mugs, a “Wine Diva” ball cap, wineglass coasters, etc etc etc. Hey, it’s an hour and a half away and our last trip out there was specifically to stock up, might as well make it worth the drive!
Basically, if you ever find yourself around Exit 85 on I-10 (DeFuniak Springs, FL) during business hours with a little time to kill, stop and in and see what you think.