Woman of the Vine

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, May 2011 •

Winemaking may be considered a man’s world, but that hasn’t deterred Jeanne Burgess from creating award-winning wines for Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards for nearly 30 years.

Winemaking is in Jeanne Burgess’ blood. Her father was an amateur winemaker who eventually became serious enough to open a small winery in the Florida Panhandle, near where Jeanne grew up. Although she received a degree in physical education from Florida State University, the call of the vineyards was too strong to resist. She returned to school to study viticulture and enology at Mississippi State University.

Woman of the Vine • Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, May 2011

Photo by Mary Ann DeSantis

After a stint with Florida Heritage Winery, Jeanne became Lakeridge’s first employee in 1983 when she joined the company in Tallahassee, where it began as Lafayette Winery. She is now Vice President of Winemaking Operations at Florida’s largest winery, which produces 350,000 gallons of wine a year—quite a difference from the 10,000 gallon capacity in 1983.

“In the beginning, growth was slow but things have taken off, especially during the last 10 years,” says Jeanne who transferred to the Clermont location in 1992. “We’re providing a product for a new market. The wines are friendly and easy to drink for newcomers to wine.”

A petite and energetic woman, Jeanne constantly moves between the laboratory, the filtering and bottling areas, and her office where she keeps a collection of vintage wine bottles. She is well-known in the industry for her dedication to cultivating hybrid grapes into award-winning wines. Lakeridge has won more than 600 awards in wine tasting competitions, including numerous gold medals for the immensely popular Southern Red and Southern White. Last year, Lakeridge’s Blanc Du Bois, a semidry white wine that is comparable to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, received silver medals from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition and California’s Grand Harvest Awards.

The Blanc Du Bois is especially dear to Jeanne because she recognized its potential in 1981 when she was working with experimental grapes.

“Breeding is very complicated, but the Blanc Du Bois grape was a stand-out from the get-go,” she says. “It jumped out and we knew we had something.”

The Blanc Du Bois is considered one of the best wine grapes for Southern regions because it was bred to resist Pierce’s disease, the single most formidable obstacle to growing non-native grapes in Florida. Lakeridge has 10.3 acres planted in Clermont and another five at its Prosperity Vineyards in the Panhandle.

Jeanne describes winemaking in Florida as “pioneering and experimental.” New grape varieties are coming along, but in the past no one looked at them for wines. Last year, she evaluated eight different varieties for potential winemaking possibilities.

“Jeanne’s enthusiasm is matched only by her hard work and willingness to master every detail of commercial winemaking. She could have entered the wine industry any place she desired — California, Oregon, New York — but chose to return home to Florida,” says Dr. Richard P. Vine, Professor Emeritus of Enology at Purdue University and formerly with the Mississippi State program. “Jeanne’s truly remarkable talent has led Florida winemaking from obscurity.”

Dr. Vine, who has authored four wine textbooks and serves as a wine consultant to American Airlines, credits Jeanne with some of Florida’s remarkable growth in the wine industry.

“When Jeanne started with Lakeridge, there were just several wineries and now there are more than two dozen, much due to her international award winning examples of what could be done with Florida grapes.”

Winemaking is a labor-intensive endeavor, but Jeanne believes women are well-suited for the profession.

“Women normally are the cooks and have developed tastes for spices and flavors, an important aspect in winemaking,” she explains. “And it takes a sense of adventure.”

She cautions potential candidates that it’s also hard work.

“Making wine is a creative process, but it’s also physically demanding,” says Jeanne. “We’re not hanging out and drinking wine all day.”

More than a Cheese Plate

No one understands the flavors of wines better than a winemaker. Jeanne Burgess tells what she likes to eat with some of her favorite Lakeridge wines.

Stover Reserve with Shrimp and Oysters. “It’s a subtle wine that is similar to Sauvignon Blanc.”

Blanc Du Bois with Seafood Paella or Gulf Coast Pompano. “This wine can handle heavily-flavored fish.”

Southern Red with Thai food. “This wine is our number-one seller.”

Want To Know More?
800-768-WINE or visit www.lakeridgewinery.com

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