There are actually two wines made from grapes at Beyond the Grape. Both are made from muscadine one is sweet, one is dry. That's it. Everything else is as advertised, some it way beyond the grape.
Oliver Rettig and Lana Bradbury manage Beyond the Grape, located in the Market Shops of Sandestin. The shop bills itself as "Tropical Wines and Gifts," and offers 35 wines, made from a variety of fruits, and even a vegetable. Beyond the Grape is situated on a corner, giving passing shoppers a chance to view some of the product displayed in the window. A step inside the door, and one can see the entire stock, arranged neatly on shelves behind a tasting bar. Rettig and Bradbury greet customers, and within moments are offering the specialty of the house a free taste. A group of browsing tourists walks in. Rettig steps to help them while Bradbury continues talking just outside the shop.
Beyond the Grape opened last December with the concept and intention of offering all Florida-made fruit wines. The wines are made in St. Petersburg and sold directly to stores like Beyond the Grape. Both Rettig and Bradbury stress that the wines are 100 percent fruit, not grape wine flavored with fruit. Between five and nine pounds of fruit go to make each bottle of wine. The wines "tend to be on the sweet side," says Bradbury, adding, "They're fruity and meant to be fruity." Many have won awards for excellence in Florida and Indiana and have been featured at Disney's EPCOT.
The list of fruits reads like half the produce section: blackberries, blueberries, cherries, coconut, cranberry, grapefruit, guava, key lime, mango, muscadine, orange, passion fruit, peach, pineapple, red raspberry, strawberry, tangelo, tangerine, watermelon, and banana. There's also tomato, orange blossom honey, orange/chocolate, and orange/coffee, and a strawberry "cream sherry."
And carrot. The latter is often served to customers without telling them what it is. Asked what it tastes like, Bradbury and Rettig say it's somewhere between a Chardonnay and a Pinot Grigio. The Chardonnay character comes from oak barrels in which the wine is aged. Customers rarely guess that it's made from carrots, says Bradbury. Rettig says that one did, but she was experienced.
Customers are frequently tourists, though there are locals. Many come in looking for something different, especially if they have not acquired a taste for traditional European and California -made table wines, the majority of which are dry. A few sips at the tasting bar separate the wine snobs from the neophytes or the simply adventurous. "The connoisseurs often say it's interesting," says Rettig.
Some don't care for non-grape wines, others go for them. The biggest seller is a Florida White Sangria, also called "Hurricane Class 5." It's a white wine, blended from several tropical fruits and designed for easy sipping. Other boat-drink style wines are Key Limen, Mango Champagne, Mamma Guava, and Hot Sun. The latter, made from tomatoes, chili peppers and spices, has a large Louisiana following. "They eat it with oysters or cheese," says Bradbury.
Inside the store, the stock is mostly wine, with some accessories such as glasses, corkscrews, and a few tidbits of wine-friendly food. The designs of (and on) the glasses are tropical, in keeping with the wines. The tasting bar has glasses, wine lists, and pencils always at the ready. Both Rettig and Bradbury have worked in other businesses, Rettig in information tech and Bradbury in digital communications. Both enjoy the more relaxed pace of the wine store. "It's like a vacation," says Rettig.
Rettig offers a taste. He asks a few questions about what fruits I like best, then pulls up the blueberry, blackberry, cherry and the white sangria. They range from fairly dry to near dessert-sweetness. There is no resemblance to fruit-flavored grape wines. All taste of the essence of the fruit, not just a candy-like flavor.
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