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DUETTE: Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery

Published on: July 3, 2018

Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery producing wines the natural way

By CARL MARIO NUDI

CARL MARIO NUDI PHOTOS
Larry Woodham, who with his wife Lenora, owns Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, tends to the three and one-half acres of Muscadine grapes they cultivate to turn into wine. They also harvest elderberries, citrus, bananas, guava, and other fruits and vegetables on the 20 acres at 8905 Bunker Hill Road in Duette.

Duette residents Lenora and Larry Woodham enjoyed a glass or two of wine at home and became very knowledgeable about the popular beverage choice of many others.

“We started learning about wine because we liked to drink wines and wanted to make it in a sustainable way,” said Larry Woodham.

So the couple decided to purchase 23 acres in Duette and plant some grape vines.

That was 22 years ago, and in 2010 they opened Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, off S.R. 62.

“It has been non-stop from the day we opened,” said Lenora Woodham.

When Larry retired from Winn Dixie and Lenora retired from selling commercial real estate for Wagner Realty, they bought the Duette Country Store in 2000, which they ran for six years as the grape vines on their vineyard, just up the road, were maturing.

“It takes 10 to 12 years for grape vines to mature enough to produce useable fruit,” said Larry.

“Bunker Hill is an ideal spot to grow grapes,” he said. “It’s at 100 feet elevation and a 6-degree grade for drainage.

“Grapes like water, but they don’t like to stand in it,” he said.

For the eight years they have run the vineyards and winery they have received a great reception from the public. 

Lenora Woodham talks about how all the bottles used at the Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, in Duette, are recycled from their customers.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Larry.

“We do no advertising,” said Lenora. “People come because of the reviews on tripadvisor.com and Yelp.

“They’re always five stars,” she said.

Customers come from all over the world, Larry said.

“We enjoy people and helping them learn about wine,” he said.

The Woodhams are very passionate about their wines and other products they make.

“Wineries today are not making wines the way they were,” Larry said. “Most of the wines out there are fake wines.

“They’re made from stuff like grape juice and concentrates,” he said.

From day one the couple have been making wines from fresh grapes, the eight-generation Florida native said.

All of the fruits and vegetables used in the wines produced at Bunker Hill are grown on site or are Florida sourced.

“When we use produce from another farm they have to meet our standards,” Larry said. “And we try to but from local family farms.”

About three and one-half acres are cultivated with Muscadine grapes, the only grape variety to grow in Florida, and other fruits and vegetables, such as guava.

Larry Woodham stands in The Wine Cave at Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, in Duette, where the wines continue to ferment for at least a year in the large carboys, and the bottled wines are stored in total darkness at a temperature of 52 to 57 degrees.

They also harvest wild grapes, elderberries, citrus and other fruits from the remaining 20 acres of Bunker Hill Vineyard.

The Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery is one of 24 certified Florida Farm wineries under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

To qualify, they had to “produce and sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually of which 60 percent of the wine produced is made from state agricultural products,” among other criteria, according to the state department’s website.

Grape wines have been on the planet well over 8,000 years, Larry said. 

Because there was no refrigeration, fermentation was used to prolong the shelf life of the early farmers’ harvest.

“They captured the harvest of today and project that harvest to the future with no end time,” he said.

“In 2018, most people live in the city and have lost a connection to growing things, and the commercial winemakers know that and take advantage of the consumer’s lack of knowledge,” he said. “People don’t know the difference between our wines and commercial wines.”

Larry said their biggest challenge is education, so when you go to a wine tasting at Bunker Hill you will get a lesson on the consumer laws of wine production.

“Consumers are entitled to the best wines that can be produced,” he said. “Our philosophy is to bring consumers back into the process.”

Visitors will be shown a printed chart that explains the federal government requirements on what has to be on wine labels.

The label will have “grown, produced, vinted, and bottled,” at the winery if the wine in the bottle met all those criteria ranking it the best, according to the chart. 

The next ranking of good wines would have been “produced, vinted, and bottled” at the winery named on the label.

Anything less than that would not be worth purchasing, the Woodhams said.

 “We had the realization that wines were not made the way they were in the past,” Larry said. “In the old days you would got to an Italian restaurant and see the bottle with a woven basket covering the bottom of the bottle, and there would be sediment in your glass.”

Along with a large variety of wines, Lenora and Larry Woodham sell a selection of jams produced at their Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, in Duette.

He said the commercial wines made today are filtered to remove that sediment.

“They filter to get the wines crystal clear,” Larry said. “But they take out everything of value, like the flavor and minerals.”

The commercial wine producers then put additives in their wines, he said, for flavor and a longer shelf life.

“We knew there had to be a way to make real wines,” Larry said. “Our wines are from fresh products and not filtered.”

That was one of the processes that made Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery wines different, he said.

The wines they produce are unfiltered and nothing is added back.

Unfiltered wines cannot be bottled for at least a year and that extra time costs commercial winemakers money.

Another point the consumer should become acquainted with is the term “natural,” Larry said.

“Federal law permits only fruit and vegetables wines made from whole fruits and vegetables to bear the word ‘natural’ on the wine label,” according to the chart on the wall in the tasting room. “Absent the word ‘natural,’ it’s made from juices and/or concentrates. The only exemption to this law are grape wines.”

“Only about 23 percent of the wines produced in the United States are real wines,” Larry said.

The Woodhams also do something most other United States wineries have stopped doing to save money.

They use natural corks and wax seal their bottles, where many of the larger commercial winemakers have switched to screw-off caps.

From the beginning this was all part of their plan to be environmentally sensitive.

Lenora Woodham explains how the grape crusher is hand-operated in the processing room of the Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, in Duette.

“We’ve been green since green was a color,” Larry said. “Every business should be run in a green and sustainable way.”

They ask their customers to bring their corks back when they come to purchase more wines, and the Woodhams send them to a company to be made into recycled cork flooring.

Also, the customers are asked to recycle their glass bottles at the winery where they are sterilized and reused.

“About 85,000 bottles were returned last year,” Lenora said. “Over an eight-year period, that’s more than a half-million.

“Every wine bottle we use flows to us from our customers,” he said. “Americans always want to do the right thing.”

And no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used, Larry said.

The Manatee County Chamber of Commerce has certified Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery as a Green Business at the Master Level for being environmentally responsible.

Larry Woodham’s love for the land was tied to his Florida heritage, which goes back to the first Manatee County settlers in 1840.

His ancestor, William Iredell Turner, a Civil War veteran, became the owner of a plantation in Oak Hill, which was later renamed Parrish, in 1865.

 Turner moved south of the Manatee River to a community he later named Bradenton, Larry said.

Lenora, came from Macon, Ga., to Florida as a little girl.

The Wine Cave at the Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, 8905 Bunker Hill Road, in Duette, where the wines continue to ferment for at least a year in the large carboys, and the bottled wines are stored in total darkness, has to be kept at a temperature of 52 to 57 degrees. Using sustainable methods, grape vines are trained to grow over the roof of The Wine Cave to help in maintaining that temperature and conserve energy use.

Larry and Lenora grew up in Tampa where they met and were married.

They came back to Manatee County when Winn Dixie picked Larry to run a warehouse in Sarasota.

During that time they lived in west Bradenton where they raised their daughter Shannon.

They now have three granddaughters and three great-grandchildren.

Lenora also makes jams and other fruit and vegetable products for sale at the winery.

The couple’s pride and satisfaction shines as they give a tour and talk about how the wines are produced.

“We add the love and passion,” Lenora said.

For more information about the Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, visit its website at www.bunkerhillvineyard.com/Home.php, or call 941-776-0418.

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