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From farming to fermentation: Masaryktown Winery owner grows most of the fruit that goes into his wines

 
The clarity of the latest vat of blueberry table wine gets a nod of satisfaction from vintner Dan Ebbecke at Masaryk Winery. BETH N. GRAY | Special to the Times
The clarity of the latest vat of blueberry table wine gets a nod of satisfaction from vintner Dan Ebbecke at Masaryk Winery. BETH N. GRAY | Special to the Times
Published Dec. 11, 2018

By Beth N. Gray

Times Correspondent

MASARYKTOWN — Dan Ebbecke's latest farming enterprise allows him to serve up the fruits of his labor, this time in a stemmed glass.

The long-time grower of small fruits and produce is fermenting homegrown fruits into an array of table wines at his Florida farm-based Masaryk Winery. Ebbecke helped to create renown for Hernando County's southeastern corner as a place to pick and buy fresh produce. He first planted a one-acre plot of blueberries in 1996.

"Being small was not going to work," he said he soon discovered.

He added a strawberry patch, then a tangle of blackberries. Quick to adopt the latest in conservation practices, Ebbecke took his strawberries out of the ground to grow them in towers of pots, nurtured with drip irrigation.

Then came acres devoted to growing vegetables organically.

With a cornucopia of fresh edibles, Ebbecke and his wife, Sue, tapped into suburbia's yen to get its hands dirty, designating their 56 acres U-Picktopia.

Now, it's wine.

"I'm willing to try anything," the amicable 61-year-old said this month while sitting in the 20-seat wine-tasting room, which is open on weekends. Additional outdoor seating looks out on the fields.

Adviser Stacy Strickland isn't surprised Ebbecke added another endeavor to his farm.

Strickland was Hernando County Extension Service director when Ebbecke planted his first blueberry root. Now director in Osceola County, Strickland keeps tabs on Ebbecke, whom he considers one of the most open-minded agriculturalists in Hernando.

"Dan is a smart guy. I think Dan continuously needs a challenge," Strickland said. "I would say he understands the business side of agriculture as well as the production side, probably as well as anyone."

Ebbecke's Masaryk Winery this year produced nine fruited table wines. The fruits in eight are Florida grown, most harvested from his own farm.

Included are sweet blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, sparkling blueberry, a blackberry-blueberry blend, and dry, oak-aged blueberry, peach and watermelon. Only a sparkling hard apple cider is fueled by out-of-state fruit.

"Apples don't grow in Florida," Ebbecke pointed out. "We're kind of proud that we have a very good bottle of strawberry made from one variety of strawberries."

What variety?

"Aww, now you're getting into trade secrets," he replied.

It takes 10 pounds of fruit to make one gallon of wine. Each of two 300-gallon fermentation vats needs 3,000 pounds of fruit for a full run. That means each bottle of wine, averaging 12 percent alcohol, contains two pounds of fruit. Depending on the variety, fermentation requires four to 12 months.

In the wine-tasting room, bottles sell for $13, with sparkling wines for $20.

"Nice Christmas gifts," said Rayetta Aviles, who was making up gift baskets for the season.

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Aviles, 72, has visited wineries in France and Italy, and managed fine-dining restaurants on her native Long Island. Ebbecke brought her on, she said, because, "I'm good at growing and making, but not so good at marketing."

Along with decanting glasses of wine, Aviles serves artistic platters of cheese, cold meats and crackers. Friday and Saturday evenings at the winery include live music and a changing variety of food trucks.

"Not everybody wants to drink wine," Ebbecke said. Responding to demand, the tasting room this month added beer and ale on tap from Tidal Brewing Co. of Brooksville.

Masaryk table wines also are available at Coney Island Drive-In and Damico's in Brooksville, Seven Hills Golf and Country Club in Spring Hill and Lake Lindsay General Store.

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.