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Friday, August 12, 2022
<p>Bradley and Jennifer Ferguson pose in their vineyard, Bluefield Estate Winery, on Wednesday.</p>

Bradley and Jennifer Ferguson pose in their vineyard, Bluefield Estate Winery, on Wednesday.

At Bluefield Estate Winery, it's all right if you don't know tannins from tea leaves or a Riesling from a pinot gris. It doesn't matter if you throw your wine back or prefer the see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor method.

"We like the casual wine drinkers; that's our type of customer," said Jennifer Ferguson, co-owner of the winery.

Tucked away off County Road 234 near Newnans Lake, the 16-acre horse farm and vineyard is home to blueberry bushes, muscadine grape vines and pear trees.

Gainesville residents and UF graduates Bradley and Jennifer Ferguson opened the winery in May after deciding to expand their blueberry-winemaking hobby into a full-fledged business.

The couple started making wine at home in 2006 using the soft, unsellable blueberries from Bradley's grandfather's farms.

Soon after their first "mediocre" five-gallon batch, they had a whole room in their house filled with fermenting wine, Bradley said.

Once the berries are picked, they are put in the freezer. This allows the water inside them to expand, making them juicier once thawed.

When the Fergusons are ready to make a new batch of wine, they crush the berries, mix them with water, sugar and yeast and allow the mixture to ferment in large, blue drums for a week to 10 days.

It takes about two pounds of blueberries to make a single bottle of the deep red wine.

The couple then strains the mixture multiple times to remove any seeds or skin, transfers the wine to a larger, stainless-steel drum and lets the wine sit and age for three to four months - the hardest part, Jennifer said.

To make the semi-sweet blueberry wine, the Fergusons' original blend, they add more sugar just prior to bottling to counteract the blueberries' natural acidity. For the sweet wine, honey and vanilla extract is added.

The Fergusons recruit friends to help bottle, cork, label and store the bottles. Right now, the winery houses about 100 cases of wine, including the three varieties of blueberry wine, a white and a red muscadine grape wine, and eight new fruit fusion wines that joined the wine list last week.

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The sweet wines are made with natural fruit flavors from concentrate and have an 8 percent alcohol content compared to other wines' 10 to 12 percent.

"I call them our Jolly Rancher wines," Bradley said. "But they can be dangerous."

During the week, Bradley manages his grandfather's three blueberry farms and Jennifer works as a claims adjuster, so the winery is only open Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Visitors can taste the flavors and purchase a bottle for about $12.

Navigating government regulations and permitting, especially those dealing with advertising and signage, were big hurdles for the Fergusons.

Businesses are not allowed to post signs on private property, and Bradley said he thinks the winery's inability to post directional signs has hindered business.

But after about 500 people bought the winery's Groupon deal that offered a wine tasting for two for $6, he said he hopes to see an increase in traffic soon.

In addition to blueberries and grapes, the Fergusons are looking into making pear and citrus wine. They've planted a half acre of pineapple pear trees, but Jennifer said it will take a while before this wine is ready for sale - about 100 pounds of pears are needed to make five gallons of wine.

"We started out pretty small - just a hobby," Bradley said, "but there's a lot of potential for us to grow."

Bradley and Jennifer Ferguson pose in their vineyard, Bluefield Estate Winery, on Wednesday.

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