“I guess it was a pair of expensive designer shoes that helped forge my career in wine,” said Joseph Spiracia of the Sparacia Witherell Family Winery & Vineyards just north of Chinsegut Hill.
Joseph had just graduated in architecture and went to interview with a prestigious New York firm.
“I presented my portfolio which they liked and offered me a position at $150 a week,” he said. “But, in that moment, I looked down at my beautiful shoes and thought I’d have to work weeks to be able to buy another pair of these and so I politely declined.” Joseph left the building and promptly disposed of his portfolio in the nearest trash can to focus on wine instead.
“I’d been interested in wine since I was 14 years old,” he said. “It started when my aunt remarried and went back to our family’s hometown in Sicily for her honeymoon.”
He explained that his aunt discovered our family was part of a big wine cooperative and bought a bunch of their wines back home.
“I started importing some of the family’s wines and that’s how I could afford those shoes,” he smiled.
Joseph, 70, comes from a large Italian family and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. “Coming from a large Italian family, my brothers and sisters were always joking that we should buy some property and grow grapes, a place where we could all get together, relax and enjoy ourselves,” said Joseph.
So Joseph did a lot of research, gathered a lot of information on wine growing in Florida and he and his siblings decided it could work. That’s when Joseph found the 30-acre property near Chinsegut Hill. “This property came up and it was perfect,” Joseph said. “It was a lot of money but the view is tremendous.”
Located on one of the highest elevations in Florida, the winery and vineyard is 275 feet above sea level.
In 2016, the family planted around 2,000 Muscadine vines (Vitis rotundifolia) but had to replant a large proportion because of damage by deer and wild boar. Also planted were blueberries, olive trees, lemon and lime citrus varieties and kumquats.
“We can make other products too like limoncello and blueberry wheat beer,” Joseph added. “And we can use the grape skins to make Grappa.”
The family practices biodynamic farming methods and has a policy of minimal intervention and sustainable agricultural methods to preserve their environment, and also ensure the complex flavors that make each vintage unique.
Agritourism is also high on the family’s agenda. “We want to attract as many visitors to our vineyard as possible,” said Joseph. “We have cabaret-style night on Wednesday, jazz and blues on Fridays.
Always with family in mind, those wines include Duet, a rosé of deep floral bouquet to celebrate sisters Maria and Roseann; Fratelli, Italian for “brothers,” is a premium white with wildflower fragrances for Joseph and Angelo; Enseime, meaning “altogether,” is a slightly sweet red with long-lasting fruitiness and Honeymoon, also sweet with honey and grape on the nose.
Nine varieties of wine are available, along with blueberry wines and wheat beer. Free tastings are offered at the winery’s tasting room that also features a gift shop with a humidor, wine accessories, gift boxes and baskets of wine. Along with cheese and crackers, charcuterie plate items like sausage, bacon, ham and paté are also available. Your favorite wines can be bought by the bottle or by glass. And on balmy evenings, there’s an outside stone veranda, just off the tasting room, where wine enthusiasts can sip and enjoy the view.
From Wednesday through Sunday, the winery boasts musical evenings and fiestas, including a cabaret-style open mike evening and blues and jazz. Check their website for more upcoming events.