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Summer 2010 Berry Good Wines

A specialty retailer in Florida offers wines made from berries, and tropical and citrus fruit—not to mention vegetables and tomatoes.

Not all wines are made from grapes. A few years ago, Donnie Garland discovered Florida wines made from berries, and tropical and citrus fruits. He enjoyed them so much that he decided to launch a business selling them.

Last year, Garland opened River Fruit Tropical Wines, a cart in the Florida Mall in Orlando, offering alternative fruit wines. The cart features a full line of fruit wines produced at the Florida Orange Groves Inc. winery in St. Petersburg. Garland also sells Florida- and tropical-themed treats such as rum cakes, coconut patties, key-lime pies, smoothie mixers and smoked alligator sticks (jerky made with alligator meat).

River Fruit’s best-selling wine has been Hurricane Class 5, a white sangria blended from five fruits; while Mango Mamma, a wine made from mangoes, has been a consistent runner-up. At certain times of the year, other flavors proved to be big hits. In June and July, Watermelon wine was all the rage, while sales of Festiberry, made from cranberries, skyrocketed during November and December. “I had trouble keeping it in stock,” Garland says.

River Fruit’s wines range in price from $17.95 to $24.95 per bottle.

Taste test

Wine offerings run from dry to dessert-sweet and feature an alcohol percentage comparable to their grape counterparts. Products include sparkling wines as well as wines made from vegetables such as carrots and another fruit, the tomato.

Before River Fruit opened, a retailer in the food court at the Florida Mall had achieved zoning for consumption of alcohol on premises, which cleared the way for River Fruit to offer samples at the cart. Since, by law, there is a limit of 4 oz. of wine allowed per customer, the company uses very small cups to keep sample sizes in check. Signage and brochures indicate that customers must be 21 or older to sample wine, and identification is checked if customers appear to be under the age of 30.

The company recently closed its cart as part of a planned transition to a kiosk. The kiosk, which will offer more space and running water, will allow River Fruit to expand its drink offerings to include wine smoothies, which are made in a blender with ice. The kiosk will also enable River Fruit to increase its food offerings.

Growth plans

River Fruit is planning on opening an inline store in Riverwalk Landing in Yorktown, VA, where Garland has family and other connections. Located on the Virginia coast, Yorktown, like Orlando, is popular with tourists. According to Garland, the tropical theme, more than the Florida theme, is promoted in the company’s marketing—which makes it a better fit for export to other states. Garland added that the company is engaged in talks to expand to two additional locations outside of Florida.

In researching expansion, however, Garland has found it challenging to navigate the laws related to selling alcohol. “Laws and licensing requirements vary from state to state,” he says. Also, he noted, in many cases, extra taxes are imposed on wines transported from out of state.

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Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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