Not to burst Napa's bubble or anything, but wine was being made in Florida some 300 years before California was even a state. Just saying.
Oh, come now, oenophiles. We kid the Golden State and its glorious, temperate wine region. Clermont is not Napa and it's not trying to be. That said, Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, just about 30 miles from downtown Orlando, is the state's largest and it's doing a great job educating the public about wine's rich history amid that of Floridian agriculture.
Lakeridge offers a rainbow of varietals in a verdant setting. — Photo courtesy of Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
In fact, if you like wine or viticulture, you'll come away with all kinds of new knowledge just from the 12-minute video presentation at the start of the Lakeridge tour (these run seven days a week, about every 15 or 20 minutes) which begins with the history of Florida wine – French explorers were the first to make it, go fig – as well as Lakeridge's family-run operation, then takes you through the production process from beginning to end. Sweeping vineyard views and a facility tour culminate in a tasting of its many varieties, all of which are for sale in the shop.
Lakeridge events, like the annual Grape Stomp, draw big family crowds. — Photo courtesy of Matt Kelland
The drive to Clermont from downtown or the resort area is interesting on its own as the typically flat terrain begins to climb into rolling hills more reminiscent of regions far from subtropical. It is Clermont's elevation, in fact, and the gentle winds it cultivates, that make Lakeridge's location so hospitable for the grapes. (Trivial side note: Lake County is home to several of the highest points in Florida, which soar to heights surpassing 300 feet.)
Tours and tastings don't take long, but Lakeridge hosts a variety of events year-round – jazz concerts, farmers' markets, holiday festivals and more – which make a visit worth sticking around for. Craft and food vendors and live-music acts mean you can make most of a day of it, with plenty of room for the kids to run and play.
As sunset approaches, however, you'll want a ringside seat for the watercolor light show and you'll find one less than five miles away. The Lake Minneola Inn & Tiki Bar is nothing fancy. It's lake house backyard vibe may in fact be what keeps people keep coming back. Well, that and the gorgeous view. And the cheap beer.
The food is your basic pub grub 101: burgers, wings, fries and the like, but the sight of lovely Lake Minneola, encircled by moss-draped live oaks, infused with mellow island-bar music and ice-cold beer and capped off with a salmon-colored Florida sunset is enough to remind you, for at least a little while, why anyone chose to live here before the advent of central air conditioning.