Winery schedules August opening pending zoning approval
By Suzanne Schmidt
South Florida's first winery is expected to open next month, after it gets zoning approval for its retail store.
The owner of Schnebly Redland's Winery says he hopes to bring agricultural tourism to Homestead's farming area with a tasting and entertainment area. But that section of the project needs to be zoned for commercial use.
"The county had classified the winery as agricultural, but because we will be selling wine, we have to meet certain zoning codes because our business will be commercial," said owner Peter Schnebly.
He recently said he expects to have approval and be able to open the winery and a temporary retail store to the public next week.
"The zoning plans needed to specify the uses on the property, indicate the setbacks and provide the required parking," said Maria Teresa Fojo, Miami-Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning's zoning land use development division chief.
The winery is awaiting a temporary certificate of occupancy to use until completion of the permanent facility, Mr. Schnebly said.
"In order to have permanent occupancy for a commercial business, you have to do landscaping," he said. "We don't want to put plants and trees in the ground until completion of the retail building."
The 5,000-square-foot permanent retail store at 30205 SW 217th Ave. in Homestead is to resemble a plantation-style home with a wrap-around porch. Mr. Schnebly expects the $1.5 million building, on the 20-acre vineyard, to be completed next year. "It's a southern plantation with a twist of tropics," he said.
Visitors can overlook a natural waterfall in a tiki hut area, known as "living rooms," where private parties can drink wine and eat cheese, and fruit.
Tours will show how the wine is made and how organic vegetables are grown in 2 acres of greenhouses. The winery also plans to use 2.5 acres as festival grounds, with the first lychee festival scheduled for next June.
Mr. Schnebly anticipates having six festivals per year to attract people to the Redlands, bringing restaurateurs and wine lovers to the 96-acre fruit grove and winery.
Working in the New York grape industry in the 1980s, Mr. Schnebly learned about wine production from friends' wineries.
"I moved to Florida not having any intentions of joining the wine industry," he said, "but when I discovered how rich the fruit was, I couldn't say no."
Last Dec. 2 county commissioners approved an ordinance to allow alcohol production in an agricultural zone, making Schnebly Redland's Florida's 16th and Miami-Dade's only winery. The amendment allows at least 10 acres of grove or vineyard land, and limits annual wine production to 250,000 gallons.
Commissioner Dennis Moss, who sponsored the legislation, said he sees the Redlands as a viable area for wine production.
"A part of saving agriculture is making the land valuable, and these alternatives allow uses of the land," Mr. Moss said. "The future of wineries in the region will bustle eco-tourism and solidify its growth."
Mr. Schnebly plans to produce 24,000 gallons of wine this year, adding to the 12,000 made from last year's fruit. The vineyard has 12,000 gallons of storage capacity and plans to add another 8,000.
"We expect to sell every gallon of wine we have produced this year," Mr. Schnebly said.
The Schnebly family runs the winery as an expansion of Fresh King, an 11-year-old produce company in the Redlands that sells packaged fruits and vegetables to retailers such as Whole Foods and Publix. The company sells about $2 million worth of packages per year, growing mangos, passion fruit, guava and lychee.
The winery is expected to create 30 jobs by the fall.
Plans to distribute wine through Southern Wine and Spirits are in the works, Mr. Schnebly said.
"Our goal is to serve the locals both at our retail store and through distribution to local restaurants," he said. "We want to cater to the public."