Florida’s southernmost winery is located in the heart of Miami Dade’s farm country, Redland. It’s called Schnebly Redland’s Winery and it’s been up and running over a decade. For me, the trip to Schnebly Redland’s Winery meant a couple of hours in the car, heading south on U.S. 1, with a view of Miami Dade slowing down.
After you pass Southland Mall at Southwest 205th Street, traffic eases a bit. Another couple of miles and you’ll notice fewer lanes and cars, as well as the absence of towering commercial buildings. Then, you drive west. If you’re a “city slicker,” the sight of rural acres, men and women working in fields, and farm tractors might be unfamiliar. It’s still Miami Dade County, just a different slice of it.
This is where Peter and Denisse Schnebly planted their winery in 2003. You hear waterfalls when you walk deep into the property. After you move past the bars, you’re greeted by an open air courtyard adorned with coral waterfalls. The Schneblys have hosted weddings and events here.
Peter and Denisse Schnebly met working in the produce business in 1991. They married a few years later. Eventually, the couple turned their produce business into wine. Technically, the Schneblys make fruit wine. Traditional wine experts would tell you without the grapes, their creation is something completely different. The Schneblys use avocadoes, guava, lychees, mangoes, passion fruit and starfruit in their wines.
Peter Schnebly says he started his wine business on the advice of a dear friend, Bill Wagner, who is now deceased. Wagner ran his namesake vineyard, Wagner Vineyards, in upstate New York. Schnebly remembers when Wagner made the suggestion, saying “Denisse and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘we don’t have any grapes, Bill.’ Not to mention that the couple had zero experience making wine, but his buddy had an answer for the “no experience” excuse: the science behind fermentation.
During fermentation, the sugars from grapes are converted to alcohol (ethyl alcohol to be specific) and carbon dioxide. The reason Wagner believed the Schneblys’ tropical fruit crops would work is because their fruit has such good flavor. Flavorful grapes or fruit should make good wine, Wagner argued.
Well, it sounds easy enough when you put it like that. But, of course, with any new idea, creating it is never as simple as uttering a few sentences. Schnebly had to do his homework and found little information about how to make wine from a mango or a lychee nut. The Schneblys stuck with it though, all the while running the produce business. They worked late nights in the garage concocting all sorts of variations.
B Today, The Schneblys have expanded their business. It now includes farmland, a winery, a brewery, a tourist attraction, a bar and an event space all on the Redland property. Peter Schnebly says they have 34 employees between the brewery and the winery.
Just before the pre-lunch hour crowd rolls in for a tasting, Peter Schnebly sat down with me to talk about the business.
Q: What’s the potential for revenue growth for the wine business?
Schnebly: I think it’s great. You know I haven’t pushed real hard to do wholesale. Lately, I’d say since November, our business has almost doubled in the wholesale part and for sure more people coming out every weekend to the winery.
Q: What are the largest cost centers for the winery? Crops? Staff? Equipment?
Schnebly: The biggest expense is labor.
Q: How do you describe South Florida consumers’ taste for wine?
Schnebly: You know I think their tastes are pretty much the same as everybody else’s. I think people are embracing a little bit of the sweeter wines. More and more people are drinking wines and the wines are drinking have maybe between one and three percent residual sugar. For the very serious wine drinker or the wine that you’re pairing with food tends to be at zero of 1% residual sugar.
Q: What has the best margins? Is it the wine? Is it the tours? You host weddings here?
Schnebly: Once you get past a certain number of people here – a tour is very profitable obviously. So if you already got a tour guide and you get past five people, while the seventh person is profitable, as far as wine goes, if all I did was sell wine, I couldn’t stay in business. If all I did was tours, I couldn’t stay in business. Really what we’re selling here is a tasting, a tour, the winery and the brewery.
The Schneblys opened their production brewery two and a half years ago. It’s called Miami Brewing Company and it produces four beers in flavors the Schneblys say, define Miami. There’s Big Rod, an ale with coconut notes, Vice IPA with a taste of toffee, Shark Bait, with a mango finish, and Gator Tail, with a semi sweet dark fruit finish. Both their beer and wine are available local stores but the wine is more prevalent – it’s been around longer. Plenty of grocers like Publix and wine shops like Total Wine carry it. Peter Schnebly’s quirky journey to become a winemaker has left him fearless about taking on beer and other distilled spirits. He has his heart set on creating another traditional tropical liquor one day, rum.