On a recent road trip to the Emerald Coast of Florida, we discovered more than just the emerald waters of this beautiful coast. Just off Highway I10 in Defuniak Springs is Chautauqua Vineyards and Winery, a jewel in its own right. We regularly enjoy wines from all over the world and while we are very enthusiastic wine consumers, we have absolutely no credentials for judging what is good. We simply know what we like, and we like Florida wines. Maybe it is because we suspend expectations, and maybe it’s because they are really that good. One thing is for sure. With twenty-three certified wineries in the State of Florida and growing, they are here to stay.
This winery, as do most wineries in Florida, use Muscadine grapes to create its most popular wines. Most of the wines we tasted are made with Carlos, a white grape or Noble, a red grape. Both grapes are grown nearby at the wineries 50 acre vineyard. The winery also imports grape juice from California and the state of New York for some of its wines. They even have a couple of fruity wines made with blueberries and blackberries, which are grown in nearby Mississippi. Malcolm enjoyed both of those, as well as the Vanilla Sherry that artfully displays a Madagascar vanilla bean inside the bottle. My favorite tasting was Wild Honeyflower, a white wine made with Carlos grapes and a dollop of wildflower honey. I imagined the dollop, but it could be a smidgen or a dash. Who cares when a wine smells this fragrant and tastes this smooth.
Chautauqua has a very small vineyard in front of the shop where visitors can see grapes growing and even pick a few for sampling. Muscadine grapes have a thick outer skin and a sweet inside. When fully ripe, the skin can be as enjoyable as the inside meat, but I would not recommend the otherwise tart exterior. They are a sentimental favorite for many Floridian’s who grew up with the vines growing over the backyard fence or on an overhead trellis as ours was.
The shop at Chautauqua was quiet on the day we visited and we felt fortunate to have undivided attention from Lindy, our wine tasting narrator. Lindy is one of those folks that exudes genuineness. She is a wonderful ambassador for the winery, and for the town of Defuniak Springs and we loved her immediately. Lindy guided us through sixteen tastings in the span of about forty-five minutes. This seems like a good time to mention that there is no charge for tasting wines at Chautauqua and sixteen samples is standard for anyone who walks into the shop. The wines are modestly priced from $7.95 to $25.00 and there is a discount on case purchases.
While Malcolm availed himself of the full complement of tastings, I roamed the shop. I have a tendency to check out when Sherry and Port appear in a tasting. Like I said, we know what we like. The shop is fully stocked with all sorts of wine paraphernalia that would make excellent souvenirs or hostess gifts for those inclined. Even if you don’t drink wine and find yourself here by someone else’s design, ask for a “tasting” of their non-alcoholic juices. No doubt, they will accommodate.
When Lindy was not serving Malcolm yet another sample, I squeezed in a question or two. The first thing on my mind was the name of the winery.
For many years, DeFuniak Springs was the location of the Chautauqua Brotherhood which is an extension of the Chautauqua Institute in New York state. The namesake of the winery is the Chautauqua Brotherhood Building which has historical significance and stands just a few miles away, on the shores of Lake DeFuniak, one of only two perfectly round spring-fed lakes in the world.
The building, which is currently under renovation, was opened in 1909 and intentionally resembled the US Capitol. The only part that remains of the original building is the grand entrance. The auditorium, which accommodated 4,000 guests was destroyed in a hurricane in 1975. The original building served as the centerpiece of the Chautauqua campus in Florida until 1927.
If you are not familiar with the Chautauqua Institute and its presence in Florida, please read an accounting of the history of this beautiful building here.
We thanked Lindy for the generosity of her time, made a purchase of a few favorite wines and followed her directions toward the Chautauqua Brotherhood Building. Without a doubt, this was one of the most surprisingly delightful days of our road trip to the Emerald Coast. Who knew that we would come to Chautauqua for a wine tasting and leave with a history lesson?
The building is currently under renovation and covered with scaffolding on the street side. I took this photo of the dome from the lake side. There is a beautiful lawn, with pathways leading to a gazebo and down to the lake, which creates the most gracious setting. I can only imagine the possibilities…
According to a press release dated August 7, 2017 from the city of DeFuniak Springs, the building will be closed to events until the first phase of renovations in completed in June, 2018. We can’t wait to visit again when it is fully restored.
In addition to the Chautauqua Brotherhood Building, there is an 1887 library that also sits on the shores of the round lake. It has continuously operated as a library since that time. The many historic homes surrounding the lake are magnificent and well worth viewing.
Retirement has enabled Malcolm and I to travel to wonderful places all over the world. It is refreshing to realize that there are still hidden gems in our own back yard, just waiting to be discovered.
Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery
364 Hugh Adams Road
DeFuniak Springs, FL
Our recommendations and opinions are unsolicited – no compensation was received for this review. Shop locally, keep Florida strong.