By Lisa M. Onorato
For Hometown News
PALM BAY - Wine enthusiasts from Brevard County and beyond will gather at the Riverhouse Farm and Vineyard in Palm Bay Saturday, Aug. 18 for the 10th annual Grape Stomp event.
Coordinated with the Space Coast Wine Guild, the event will feature wine tastings, live music with the Bob Parker Band and wine and jelly-making demonstrations.
Riverhouse Farm and Vineyard, owned by Bob and Ruth Anne Parker, is a 9-acre property with one acre devoted entirely to grape-growing.
The unique property features a 1940s home that Mr. Parker relocated from Riverside Drive in Cocoa in 2003. Mr. Parker said he stumbled across the house around the same time he was planning on turning the Palm Bay property into a vineyard.
All of the grapes grown at Riverhouse Farm are of the muscadine variety, which thrives in Florida's climate, Mr. Parker said.
Muscadines are native to the Southeast, he said.
Mr. Parker and his wife care for 160 vines in the vineyard. Mr. Parker said it takes three years from the time the vines are planted to the first production. The vines go dormant in the winter, the first buds appear in the spring, and the grapes ripen in August and September.
"The muscadines are not like the California grapes; they don't get ripe at the same time," Mr. Parker said. "We spend several weeks working through the vineyard. These grapes are pulled individually - not like the European grapes."
Though the name of the upcoming event may conjure up images of Lucille Ball, crushing grapes with her feet in a giant barrel, Mr. Parker said his grapes are juiced using a mechanical crusher.
Mr. Parker said he and his wife became interested in having a grape farm almost by accident.
"We noticed that wild grapes grew well out here," he said. "So we thought maybe we should try planting them and selling them."
Mr. Parker said that at the time, he didn't know of winemakers in Brevard. He soon discovered the Space Coast Wine Guild.
"We had people here in Brevard winning medals for their wine," Mr. Parker said.
Over the years, Mr. Parker has fine-tuned caring for the vines.
He said that insects are not a problem with the Muscadine grapes, so no pesticides are used. He said the grapes are organic, except for the use of a fungicide.
"We will stop using the fungicide two weeks before harvest," Mr. Parker said.
While insects are not a problem, local raccoons have found the grapes to be irresistible.
"It's almost comical what we have to do to keep the raccoons out," Mr. Parker said.
During season, the farm is open six days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors can self-pick grapes for eating or to make wine. Both white and red grapes are available.
Once the grapes are harvested, they will be smashed, mixed with yeast and sugar, and then left to age in glass bottles for six weeks minimum.
"Our wines aren't aged in barrels," Mr. Parker said.
At the time, Mr. Parker said he didn't know that there were any winemakers in Brevard. He soon discovered the Space Coast Wine Guild.
Mr. Parker said he does his best to remain up to-date on the industry, through the Florida Grape Growers Association.
He said both the University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida A&M University in Tallahassee have provided a wealth of information to help support his endeavor.
"UF helped me figure out how to keep the raccoons out," said Mr. Parker. "There is a lot of interest in grape growing in Florida."
The Aug. 18 event is free and open to the public. The event begins at 8 a.m. and is open until 6 p.m.
The Riverhouse Farm and Vineyard is at 3836 Hield Rd NW, Palm Bay.
For more information about the Riverhouse Grape Stomp, call (321) 723-4705 or visit www.spacecoastwineguild.com.