Castronovo Vineyards, Lighthouse Point
For syndicated radio talker Paul Castronovo (he co-hosts “The Paul and Young Ron Show” mornings from 6-10 a.m.), a foray into the wine business happened during his vacation in Italy about six years ago. “We were having a blast in Lake Como sampling and looking at the wine list when a sommelier at the restaurant gave us a lot more vino to taste,” recalls Castronovo, a long time food and wine lover. “He thought I was famous!”
Castronovo was then asked to visit a vineyard about five hours away. When he arrived, he was greeted like a rock star, or more fitting, like the fictional Vito Corleone arriving in Sicily. Members of the Galasso family, who owned the vineyard, were waiting for him with food and wine because they wanted Castronovo to bring their wine to America and start his own label. Castronovo was impressed with their San Lorenzo Winery in Abruzzo, and got pumped at the idea of becoming a wine mogul.
Two days later, as fate would have it, Bruce Hunter, president of Shaw-Ross Wines, was seated next to the radio star on the plane back to the U.S. Hunter exports Italian wines to America and spent the 11-hour flight chatting with Castronovo about starting his own label. This serendipitous encounter helped him decide to pursue the grape. “About three and a half years ago, I started Castronovo Vineyards by calling restaurants and bars and letting them sample our first blend, which is Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, a ruby red with purple hue which is gentle and spontaneous,” recalls Castronovo. “Now I have 400 to 500 locations in South Florida.”
Last spring, he introduced a white wine called Pecorino, which he describes as a “Pinot Grigio on steroids.” With two selections, the radio host is busy marketing and enjoying every minute of his second career. “The competition for getting wine on the shelf is fierce,” he says. “I deal with big companies who pay under the table. But I am loving the business and hope that someday my kids will make money from my newfound passion.”
Larry and Lenora Woodham
Duette Bunker Hill Vineyard
This busy couple needed a change. After long careers with Winn Dixie and in real estate respectively, Larry and Lenora Woodham switched gears. They bought 23 acres of land in Eastern Manatee County and planted a vineyard. “We have always enjoyed wine at corporate functions, but we wanted to get more involved,” says Lenora. “It was a dream.”
Larry had been a buyer of wine and other grocery products for 1,300 Winn Dixie stores, while Lenora was a commercial broker for 25 years. Larry had learned a lot about the wine industry while employed at Winn Dixie, so they used his expertise to start their vineyard. They also toured other Florida vineyards to observe what to do and how to do it.
The Woodhams planted their first grapes in 1999. It took 10 years to secure good grape vines, but Lenora says it was worth the wait. They opened Bunker Hill Vineyards in 2010 and now produce and sell 11 different wines, including two sparkling, and a fruit line, which includes wines like watermelon and banana.
They’ve also become certified green at the master level, because the couple is concerned about their carbon footprint and impact on the environment. When possible, they eliminate the use of electricity and opt for alternative forms of energy. Every wine bottle is locally sourced and recycled. They seal their bottles with hot dipped sealing wax, which is re-melted and reused when customers return empties. (The Woodhams got back 8,000 bottles last year.) And they use 100 percent natural corks.
Bunker Hill is a certified Florida Farm Winery, and all bottles and glasses are sold on premises. “The wine goes right out the door,” says Lenora. “We don’t have the production to go to restaurants and groceries. But we are open daily and offer educational tours and wine tastings.”
The Woodhams know that they have the climate, soils and environment to grow their products and hope to be creating handcrafted wine for a long time. “We knew in our hearts what we wanted to do and we are now doing it,” says Lenora. “We are living the dream.”