You don't have to travel all the way to California to enjoy a vineyard and a great glass of wine.
Better yet, you don't have to travel far out of the county.
Just across the Hernando/Pasco county line is Strong Tower Vineyard & Winery.
The vineyard consists of 11 acres, presently planted with three different varieties of grapes: the "Ison," a purple-black muscadine grape; the "Carlos," a wonderful white-bronze muscadine grape; and the "Norton," a deep blue-purple bunch grape.
Muscadine grapes are well suited to the Florida soils and thrive in the hot and humid Florida climate. They are native to the southeastern United States and are known as American wild grapes. It has been cultivated for many years, dating back to the 16th century in St. Augustine.
Norton grapes are believed to have been first cultivated in Virginia and have been used for wine production since the early 1800s.
Strong Tower Vineyard & Winery owners, Terry and Janis McKnight, first started planting their vineyard in 2001 and then opened for business in 2007.
This year, the McKnights expect to harvest about 20 tons of grapes. Each year, the harvest has increased as the vines have matured.
"We only use our grapes for our wines and all is produced here from vine to glass," Janis McKnight said. "As we harvest the grapes, they are immediately brought to the crusher, then pumped into the fermentation tanks and prepared for the process to begin.
"Usually we have the grapes in motion immediately after picking. The advantage of being at the vineyard where picked makes for better wine."
Depending on the type of wine, it can take between nine months to three years to make the wine.
"Terry makes 14 to 16 wines and ports throughout the year. The wine menu is always changing, depending on availability," McKnight said. "The wines range from sweet to middle to dry to port/dessert wines."
The vineyard and winery is open year-round, Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for visitors. It is also available for special events such as weddings, receptions, special event parties and fundraisers.
"When guests come to Strong Tower, they are welcome to taste our wines, visit the vineyard and tour the processing room if desired," McKnight said. "Picnics are always welcome, especially if we get a bite, to be enjoyed with our wines by the glass or bottle in our veranda or shelter area."
Tonight the vineyard is open until 10 p.m. At least one Friday evening a month, visitors can unwind at the vineyard from the week's work under the stars and, of course, sip wine.
"The 'Evening at the Vineyard' is a great time to meet with family or friends," McKnight said.
Strong Tower Vineyard & Winery is hosting its annual "Harvest Pumpkin Festival, Arts & Crafts Show" from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 12. Attendees can visit the pumpkin patch, taste wine and enjoy horse carriage rides and local art. The event is free.
Then at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 the vineyard will feature its "Dinner in Elegance" fundraiser event, where an elegant four-course dinner is served under moonlight in the vineyard on fine linen and white china.
Upon arrival, attendees will receive a complimentary glass of wine with hors d'oeuvres, a wine bottle of choice with dinner and a glass of dessert wine with a French berry tart for dessert. Tickets are $65.
Proceeds from the event will benefit The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Strong Tower Vineyard & Winery is located at 17810 Forge Drive in Spring Hill in Pasco County, just south of County Line Road and west of U.S. 41, off of Bowman Road.
For more information, contact the vineyard at (352) 799-7612 or visit www.strongtowervineyard.com.
Hernando Today correspondent Heather Francis can be reached at toheatherfrancisgmail.com.