Southern Grape Company may be one of Jackson County’s best kept secrets. The Vineyard is located just off Highway 2 between Malone and Campbellton. It is owned by Phillip and Allison McKinnie. In an interview last week with Channel 13’s Ashton Williams, Phillip McKinnie gave a history of Southern Grape Vineyard.
McKinnie, “We established the vineyard. We initially planted in 2008 and we put all the crops in by 2010, so we’ve here about eight to 10 years. This will actually be the third time that we have harvested. We’re harvesting Carlos today, which is a white muscadine grape that is indigenous to northwest Florida, actually and to the southeast. Also, we will harvest our Noble red grapes later in the year, actually in September.”
When asked to describe the grape business McKinnie says, “Ultimately the varieties we selected are varieties that could be used for juice, fresh fruit and or wine. The varieties you see behind me ultimately are used in the production of wine by a vineyard and winery in central Florida.”
McKinnie says of the process of growing and harvesting grapes for a vineyard and winery, “The cycle ultimately starts with pruning in the winter. So, after we planted them, it took three years before they were actually trained to the trellis and trained down the wire and started getting a lot larger as they are here. As they became bigger, of course we have a fertilization program, that’s a general management program that goes on every day. That includes general maintenance under the canopy as well as on top of the canopy to ensure that we don’t over crop the varieties. Ultimately, it starts in the winter with winter pruning and we prune all winter. During the summer, we apply our overall pesticides and weed control for the most part until we are able to harvest. We also do drip irrigation, when there’s times where there’s not enough rain, this year we don’t have that problem.”
McKinnie says of the reason vineyards are few and far between in Jackson County, “I’m not sure why in Jackson County that there are not very many commercial vineyards. I do know to our west, in DeFuniak Springs, there’s Chautauqua that has vines in the ground. Three Oaks Winery in Vernon in Washington County also has vines, but in Jackson County, no. I think we are one of a few commercial vineyards actually established. I think ultimately it does provide jobs, it’s an alternative crop. It’s a crop that’s not necessarily grown here, it’s a specialty crop. It was a crop that wasn’t grown here even though the climate and the chemical make up of the soil is such that it’s ideal. We have been trying to encourage more folks to plant, so that we can ultimately try to increase the demand and the awareness of the muscadine grape and lead to more value added to the products associated with these grapes. It could be juice, it can be fresh fruit, it can be ultimately wine as well. This is a first in an attempt to increase the demand and make folks more aware of it.”
McKinnie says that the vineyard has 25 acres in cultivation. They have 15 acres of Carlos which is a white variety and 10 acres of Noble, which is a red variety. They will harvest around 65-75 tons annually of the Carlos grapes and between 40-60 tons of the Noble grapes, depending on the harvest and how it actually comes out in the end.
When the grapes leave the vineyard, they are put on a flat bed semi where they go to Clermont (Florida) where it will be made into juice, and ultimately made into wine. That will go under the label of several different wines from southern red and southern white to name a few that are made by the wine maker for the company they sell the grapes to.
The vineyard is contracting with one company this year that is purchasing their entire lot of grapes. There have been years where they do multi source where they sell some with a contract to a company and also, they have sold some as fresh fruit.
McKinnie says, “The ultimate idea is to generate demand and generate awareness of the southern grapes that we can grow in the panhandle. If we grow these grapes, we believe that someday we can create and have our own retail factory where we produce our own end products. Whether that’s juice, whether it’s wine, whether it’s fresh fruit, ultimately that would be ideal down the road once we continue to produce and get the tonnage up to where we think it can be at its peak.”
Sit back, sip a glass a wine from your backyard in Jackson County.