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Monday, January 22, 2018

San Sebastian Winery - St. Augustine, Florida

For this quick trip/long weekend away, I was only spending four days in Northern Florida - truth be told an area I knew (very) little about.  A quick google search on "St. Augustine" told me that this place was full of history, had a lighthouse, a historic fort, an alligator farm, oh and plenty of booze. A distillery virtually next door to a winery-  yes please.  We first attempted to visit the distillery but after doing circles around the parking lot to see it was completely full, it was off to the winery we went. When we went back to visit the distillery at 11:45 a different day, there were plenty of parking options -start early because as the cliche saying goes, it's 5 o'clock somewhere...

The winery was also busy but we easily found a parking spot (free lot) and headed for the entrance.  You are immediately greeted by a gift shop and wine store but a quick right takes you to the beginning of the (free) wine tasting and tour.  However, my first impressions were mixed.  The wine tasting was a walking tour to various stations around the winery where you received your tasting from different stations- an idea I loved.  A walking wine tour stopping at different stations. Brilliant!  However, tastings were offered in a plastic thimble - medicine cap style - the same one used for all the tastings never even rinsed.  I am no wine snob but how do I take your wine seriously when it has been poured in a plastic thimble with remnants of three other types of wine?

What bugged me the most was how little the people cared who were pouring the wine.  Not a greeting, not an ounce of information on the wine.  I felt like cattle being herded through the building and it came off as a "get your tasting and go".  I wanted to know what I was drinking and something about the wine.  When I even asked a question I got some short answer back and the attendants just seemed cranky and annoyed.  Finally after trying to ask about the wine I received some good information (to drink the port in two sips which made a huge difference).  

The wine itself was okay.  I enjoyed the Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.  The rest of the wines were much much sweeter than I was expecting.  The trip was redeemed by the fact that A) the idea of a walking tasting tour was kind of fun and B) the cellar upstairs staff was much more friendly and I loved the vibe on the roof top patio with live music, food, and of course wine.

My advice?  Go do the tour but have little expectations on that.  Spend your time at the awesome "Cellar Upstairs" where you can grab a bottle of wine and lunch on the roof top with sunshine and jazz. 

Website:  San Sebastian Winery 
Address: 157 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida
Tastings:  Free- Complimentary Winery Tours and Tasting are offered everyday
The  Space:  18,000 square foot wine production facility
Tours: run about every 20-25 minutes, lasting approximately 45 minutes in length and offered seven days a week, (except for major holidays). However, when I was here it was just a free for all walking from station to station throughout the building- no tour information. 
Hours:  Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wines: CABERNET SAUVIGNON, VINTNERS WHITE, VINTNERS RED, CHARDONNAY, PINOT GRIGIO, ROSA, PORT.  Enjoyed the Cab, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and port.  Rosa and the vintners were too sweet for me.

Opened in 1996, San Sebastian Winery is a family-run corporation that has evolved into an industry leader since the company was originally formed in 1983 by the Cox family. With over 18,000 square feet, 40,000 gallons of wine storage capacity, and an automated bottling line capable of bottling up to 15,000 bottles per day, San Sebastian remains the second largest winery in the state of Florida. Housed at 157 King Street in downtown St. Augustine in a building originally constructed by Henry Flagler in 1923, San Sebastian embodies the historic feel of the nation’s oldest city.

Wine and Jazz bar on the roof - ‘The Cellar Upstairs’ wine and jazz bar is located on the third floor of the winery. You can purchase delicious appetizers to accompany your favorite San Sebastian Wines, as well as imported and domestic draft or bottled beers. Relax and take in the spectacular views from the open-air deck while listening to live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday: 11:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

The 75-acre vineyard, known as "Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards", is located in Clermont, Florida.  Additionally they own 450 acres in Florida's panhandle in Prosperity and contract with several growers throughout the Southeast with approximately 200 acres under contract. San Sebastian grows native varieties of the red Noble and bronze Carlos and Welder Muscadines.

It was great to sit in the sun (and next to a heater) enjoying some sunshine and wine in the sunshine state.  While I loved the concept of the walking tour, I was not impressed by the staff or the wine.  The day was redeemed by these moments below, wine and laughter in the sun on their great rooftop deck.  Stay tuned for my trip to the distillery next door.  

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