In the early 1990s, Florida Orange Groves Winery began producing wines made with 100% tropical fruits, and since then, other wineries have followed suit, experimenting with mango, lime, orange, grapefruit, blueberry and strawberry. Despite their early beginnings, Florida winemakers have struggled for centuries to grow Europe's Vitis vinifera grapes in an unpredictable climate. In Clermont, Florida, in the Orlando metropolitan area, Lakeridge grows wine grapes on 70 acres and 98 acres in Prosperity, in northwest Florida. These grapes grow in USDA zones 7 and above, while most cluster-type grapes cannot be grown in Zone 11. In the 1930s, researchers from the University of Florida developed new hybrid grape varieties based on native muscadine to make them more ecologically suited to the Florida climate, such as Blanc du Bois, Stover, Swanee, Daytona, Orlando Seedless and Miss Blanc. Central Florida experiences its highest annual rainfall during the growing and maturing season, and the harvest occurs at the peak of the state's hurricane season from August to November. To help with this challenge, the non-profit Florida Grape Growers Association (FGGA) was created in 1923 to sponsor research on grapes suited to the state's growing conditions.
Fertigation is key to providing crucial nutrients to vines in the sandy soils of central Florida. Because of the tropical climate and grapevine diseases, in particular Pierce's disease, vitis vinifera does not grow well in Florida. Mechanical harvesting helps Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards maintain its efficiency in the face of a hostile growing environment. In 1988, Cox joined a group of Orlando investors interested in planting vineyards and opening a winery in central Florida. To be a certified Florida winery, 60% of the wine produced must be made with agricultural products grown in Florida. Native and unique to the south is Moscadina - a common deciduous climbing grape that is normally found in dry highland forests with sandy or rocky soil, swamps, roadsides and scrublands.
Unlike garnacha and other thin-skinned European grapes, muscadine has a thicker skin that protects against mold and fungal diseases that are prevalent in Florida. The challenge of growing grapes in Central Florida is a difficult one. The unpredictable climate and grapevine diseases make it difficult for vitis vinifera to thrive. However, with careful planning and research into suitable grape varieties for the region as well as mechanical harvesting techniques, wineries have been able to produce quality wines from grapes grown in Central Florida.