I like to discover wineries in unexpected places… Florida is a good example.  I have some family in Florida and they didn’t even realize there were wineries.  Most Florida wineries import the grapes since the hot climate isn’t conducive to many varieties (although the Muscadine grape seems to handle the heat) and some make wine out of other Florida-grown fruits.  The winemaker at Tarpon Springs Castle Winery brings his Italian winemaking heritage to Florida.  

I was first struck by the appearance of the winery’s exterior, which looks like a traditional southern homestead.  Apparently the couple who owns the winery specifically constructed it to resemble an 1820 federal building through consultation with various historical societies.  I later learned their home is upstairs. It is certainly one of the most unique looking winery buildings I have visited.

My significant other and I were unfortunately short on time this day, as I was trying to squeeze in a winery visit before we had an appointment in nearby Clearwater (he was looking at yet another used boat – see the Maryland post).  When we walked in, we were instantly greeted warmly by the owner and winemaker, Joseph Marks.  He led us to the small table-for-two where he would conduct our tasting.  He called over to a woman conducting a larger group’s tasting to ask a question and his tone indicated to me that they were a couple (you know that tone – slightly exasperated in the most loving way).  She is, in fact, his wife and winery co-owner, Diana Marks.

There are apparently several Groupon packages that can be used at the winery but we just did a standard tasting, which includes samples of four wines, a glass of wine, and the glass itself.  In all my years of tastings at many wineries, I have never had a glass of wine included with the tasting.  I would have really enjoyed sitting outside on the beautiful, hot day (it was snowing and freezing in NJ at the time) with a glass of wine but we only had time for the four tastes, and of course the background story…

Mr. Marks explained that he started learning how to make wine from his uncle in Sant’Arsenio, Italy (Province of Salerno) at the age of seven.  When his parents retired to Florida, he decided to follow them from his home in upstate New York.  He wondered aloud why he didn’t make the move sooner.  He noted that he has 42 relatives in the area but he didn’t really see much of them until he opened the winery.

Mr. Marks guided us through the tasting with an expertise and familiarity with the wine that was interesting and educational.  His wines seemed like pure expressions of the grapes and we enjoyed all four.  I was also caught up in the story of him running the winery four days per week and then boating and fishing the other three days.  Sounds like a fabulous life.

I wish we had time to soak up more of the sunshine and enjoy a full glass of his wine.  We let him know we would be back to do that.  Maybe people just say that sometimes, but with great wine, an enjoyable winery experience, and a beautiful setting, we will be back.

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