I've never heard of Bunker Hill, Florida, and I'm going to go ahead and guess you haven't either. To call it a town is too much, because there's no town center to even speak of, but you get to it by heading northeast on U.S. 301 and then cutting east on State Road 62.
Way out past the Ellenton outlet mall, way past the Florida Power & Light smokestacks, way past the agricultural labor camps, you come to Bunker Hill Road, which branches past rundown farmhouses and citrus groves and takes you right to where I'm headed: Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery.
A long shell road takes you into the property proper, the 23-acre parcel where founders Larry and Lenora Woodham make all kinds of wine from muscadine grapes and whatever fruits are in season. The couple came out here 19 years ago and planted their first grapes, but have only been producing alcohol for four years.
Larry says Bunker Hill's whole goal is to capture the "whole diversity of nature" in a bottle. Rather than mix their grapes with juice imported from elsewhere or filter the wine to capture a consistent color, the Woodhams are happy to crank out irregular wines that haven't been tampered with or adulterated, celebrating the bounty of what grows in southwest Florida.
That means that while the Woodhams harvest the muscadine grapes they've planted on the 3.5 acres of their land covered with rows of grapevines and even pick wild grapes to round out their blend, they also produce a stunning range of fruit wines that vary widely with the seasons. Lenora points out bright yellow dandelion flowers sprouting amid the lines of grapes. Those flowers are picked regularly and will soon be fermented to make dandelion wine.
But that's hardly it. Glass jugs of kumquat wines, cherry tomato wines, papaya wines and more are right now aging inside one of the vineyard's refrigerated buildings.
Larry calls such wines "American heritage wines," wines our American ancestors made for centuries. "We should be making whatever wines they made," Larry says.
But that philosophy also means that you never know quite what you're going to get. Bunker Hill ages all of its wines for a year, minimum, but sometimes that's not enough, and because its production hews so closely to the growing season, if the grapes have a bad year, so does the winery. When I ask Larry how many bottles they produce a year, he can't really say.
But for fans, it doesn't matter. Lenora is preparing to send out an email announcing the blueberry wine that will be available this weekend. She and Larry both expect a packed crowd eager to snap up some bottles. Those aficionados are also a big part of the winery's impressive recycling program: They reuse wine bottles brought to them by customers after, of course, cleaning and sterilizing them and pasting on their own labels. The program keeps thousands of wine bottles from ending up in landfills each year.
It's all part of the couple's hope to spark a revival of interest in wines native to the southeastern U.S., and more particularly, southwest Florida. And that's part of a bigger philosophical shift Larry—whose great-great-grandfather, Major William Turner, was the first postmaster of a town known as Braidentown—would like to see happen: "We've got to start growing things."
Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery is located at 8905 Bunker Hill Road, Bunker Hill. For more information, call 941-776-0418 or visit bunkerhillvineyard.com.
This is the 48th entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.