by Paul Burdziakowski
Tucked away in the rural countryside, in the northeast corner of Manatee County, is the location of perhaps the greenest vineyard and winery in America. Certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, it is also a place where the native wildlife is both protected and respected. Everything that is done on this 23-acre working Florida farm winery is done in a way that preserves and protects the environment.
“We’re different, we’re not like everyone else around here,” said owner Larry Woodham, who along with his wife Lenora run every aspect of the business.
The list of things that the Woodham’s do to help sustain the environment is quite extensive but it all starts with their main product, grapes. The Woodham’s grow all their own grapes preventing the need to import juice from anywhere else and unnecessarily burn valuable nonrenewable fuel. All their grapes are processed right on site using manually operated equipment which eliminates the need to burn additional fossil fuel for electricity. The water they use to irrigate crops comes from a seep spring and is stored in a 1,350 gallon cistern. A solar powered pumping system moves the water from the cistern to the vines and then is distributed to the crops using an efficient drip irrigation system.
Unlike most wineries today, the Woodhams create their own distilled water and sanitize it using the sun’s energy. The wine is stored and aged in reusable glass carboys instead of oak barrels, completely eliminating the carbon footprint. All the wine is placed in a wine cave made from 100-percent recyclable steel. All the buildings on the property use energy efficient fluorescent lighting and have no windows in order to eliminate the loss of energy.
Every single wine bottle that is used comes from repurposed wine bottles that were all contributed by past customers. The Woodham’s simply scrape off the old label and sanitize the bottle before filling it with their own wine and relabeling it. In return the customers earn loyalty points that they can use toward future purchases at the winery. The current repurposed wine bottle count for this year stands at 64,416 bottles.
Instead of using artificial plastic corks the Woodhams use natural corks that come from the bark of the cork oak tree. The average tree will produce enough natural cork to bottle over 4,000 bottles of wine — removing the cork bark does not kill the tree. All the bottles are sealed with genuine hot wax instead of plastic or aluminum foil.
It is the Woodhams’ hope that their example of protecting and preserving the environment will become the green benchmark for current and future winery businesses.
“It was our lifestyle and we made it our commitment from the very beginning,” Lenora said.
“Every winery in America should be doing this,” Larry added.
The Woodhams first planted their ancient stock of native Muscadine grapes 22 years ago while they were both still in the midst of their careers. Larry worked in the corporate structure for 37 years and Lenora was involved in commercial real estate for 25 years.
“We’ve worked our entire lives and this is kind of a fulfillment of a dream to have this,” Larry said.
In 2005 the Woodhams joined the Department of Agriculture “Fresh from Florida” program which allowed them to benefit from the free marketing, promotional and advertising initiatives conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It didn’t take long before word about the winery spread and wine lovers from all over the world began to trickle in, some from as far away as Europe and South America. The winery officially opened to the public in August of 2010.
With their winery quickly gaining recognition and wanting to qualify as a tourist attraction, the Woodhams decided to register with the Department of Agriculture in 2012 and became a certified Florida Farm Winery. This distinction also allowed the Woodhams to place Florida Farm Winery logos, emblems, and directional signs on the rights-of-way of interstate highways as well as primary and secondary roads.
“We bring people to the state from all over the world,” Larry said. “That’s how important wineries like us are considered in the state of Florida.”
In 2013 the Woodhams were able to become certified to the highest green level known as master level when the Manatee County Florida Chamber of Commerce awarded the couple their first ever Green Business of the Year award.
While the Woodhams appreciate all the recognition that they receive, their true passion is empowering people by addressing some of the questions and myths surrounding wine.
“The day we opened we had to bring our customers in the loop,” Larry said.
In order for people to see every aspect of what they are doing the Woodhams offer a daily complimentary vineyard tour and wine tasting. The process starts as soon as visitors walk through the main office doors. People quickly learn that there are 68 different varieties of wines ranging from green and black teas to fruit and vegetable wines, all aged one year and made from 100 percent whole fresh produce. The Woodhams also sell wine jellies, jams, marmalades, preserves and glazes.
The grape wines are made from seven different varieties of Muscadine grapes, which grow more in clusters than in bunches and have skins thicker than almost any other grapes in the world. The Woodham’s make sure to point out that Muscadine grapes are more nutritious than red grapes, with 40 times more antioxidants, six times the resveratrol and the only variety of grape to have ellagic acid (a natural phenol antioxidant known to have anti-cancer properties).
What’s more, all the wines produced by the Woodhams are unfiltered meaning they are fermented with the skins and whites of the grapes. Most modern wineries filter their wines, which makes them inferior in quality and taste. Filtered wines have a heritage of about 85 years and a shelf life of between two to four years. The heritage for unfiltered wines extends back over 8,000 years and has no shelf life.
Natural fruit pectin is another benefit that is found in the Woodhams’ unfiltered wines. The naturally occurring complex carbohydrate is known to promote good digestive health and lower bad cholesterol.
The Woodhams also like to educate their visitors about the two types of wine producers in America, the real wineries and the wine factories, which source most of their inventory in the form of juices and concentrates from off-site suppliers.
“By law every American winery must inform the consumer how their wine is made,” Larry said. “A real winery will have four key words on their bottle — grown, produced, vinted and bottled. This is extremely important because people are forking over their hard earned money for something they think is real.”
The Woodhams state that their favorite aspect of running a vineyard and winery is all the different people that they get to meet. They especially enjoy sending people home with a good experience and better informing them on how to be better environmental custodians.
“People come in here not really knowing what to expect,” Larry said. “We want people to have a good experience. We are personal with them and open to all their questions. I bet that there are thousands that have left here saying why has no one ever told me this.”
“People come in here not knowing you and they walk out hugging you goodbye,” Lenora added. “Everyone else leaves as new best friends. We all do.”
For more information about Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery visit their website at .