True Blue Winery: The 863’s Only Winery
By James Coulter
The images brought to mind when one thinks of a winery often include a posh country club where well-groomed socialites gather to sample exotic wines.
True Blue Winery in Davenport couldn’t be farther from this lofty image. Having just celebrated its first anniversary, the winery features a casual atmosphere that feels more like an upscale, yet very welcoming, bar-restaurant than a country club.
The winery is the first ever in Polk County, specializing in a signature blueberry and blackberry wines while also serving peach, citrus, and muscadine, a grape native to the southeastern United States.
In addition to a winery, the property also features a bistro that serves classic sandwiches and soups for lunch. And on weekends the outdoor brick oven is fired up to cook pizzas, salmon, and steaks for dinner.
Aside from the wine, a gift shop sells other blueberry creations including jams, jellies, syrups, barbeque sauces, smoothie mixes, and bread mixes.
Located down a dirt trail along Pink Apartment Road, the brick building looms over five acres of lush green blueberry plants, a rare site in a county and state dominated by orange groves.
Upon entering through the brass door with the winery’s name etched in blue glass, one enters a lively atmosphere with country music blaring from the jukebox. Chandelier lights glimmering off the signature blue bottles hanging over the bar are a nice welcome.
And on the outside patio twinkling blue lights dangle from the roof, showering the customers in a warm turquoise storm.
From the brick oven roar flames and smoke, sending the aroma of roasting vegetables and seasoned, seared beef wafting through the night air, enticing taste buds of awaiting customers.
Whether relaxing with a glass of wine or a beer after a grueling workweek, or congregating with loved ones during a special event, locals love the winery for its service, ambiance, and hospitality.
“It’s very relaxed, laid back, and the atmosphere is very nice for everyone to enjoy,” says April Miller, a regular customer who recently hosted a bridal shower for her friends Lindsey Chism and John Seay, who were married last month.
When deciding where to host their shower, the couple and their loved ones unanimously agreed on True Blue Winery, which is a personal favorite for them.
“It’s off the beaten path so there’s not a lot of traffic,” says Seay.
While neither of Chism or Seay are major wine connoisseurs, the couple does enjoy the wines served there.
“I don’t drink wine but I can find one that I will enjoy,” Chism says. “My glass hasn’t gone empty all day.”
The winery is the creation of Howard and Fatima Khan-Gill, a local farming couple who have been happily married for 18 years.
Howard has had the most farming experience of the two, having resided in Polk County since he was 5-years-old.
Howard previously owned 10 acres of citrus with two cows, and has been operating a manufacturing company in Davenport with his brother for 20 years.
The couple started their venture into blueberries by opening H & F Blueberry Farms in 2008.
What had started as a part-time hobby for the couple has evolved into a fulltime job, as Fatima now works permanently at the farm and winery.
The five-acre farm started with 4,000 blueberry bushes, and has grown with 2,000 new bushes each year. The farm now has 12,000 plants, each of which produces two to five pounds of berries annually.
The farm grows three varieties of blueberry plants: Highbush, Spring High, and Aurora.
As blueberries normally grow in northern, colder climates, growing them in the warm, humid Florida climate has proven to be quite the challenge, especially with regard to combating the bugs and birds. However, in the end, the owners say this challenge has proven to be a rewarding and lucrative one.
“It’s a very time consuming, very labor intensive business,” Howard says. “Everything is against us, but we are the first ones on the market with blueberries.”
After making everything else imaginable from blueberries, Fatima experimented with blueberry wine after being introduced to the concept three years ago by a friend.
The past three years have been a learning process, as each year has allowed them to perfect and master their craft.
The first year Howard and Fatima made five gallons of wine, the following year they made 20 gallons. Since opening the winery to the public last year in November, they now make 3,000 gallons of wine a year.
The winery manufactures and distributes three different blueberry wines, including sweet, semi-sweet, and semi-dry, along with blackberry wine and a combination of blackberry and blueberry. They also serve peach, citrus, and muscadine.
When it comes to taste testing, Fatima tends to take that job on herself, as her palate is not as used to wine as her husband’s.
Of the wine they produce, Fatima loves Sweet Blueberry, while Howard prefers the flavor of Black and Blue.
“I think ours is a little more on the hearty side,” Howard says. “It’s a little richer and bold.”
While they themselves cannot vouch for their customers and what they prefer about their wine, they have yet to have an unsatisfied customer.
“Anybody who has ever had our wine has basically liked it,” Howard says, and adds that the sweet blue wine has even received a silver medal.
Aside from the fragrant wines, the bistro serves other dishes that delight even the fussiest of taste buds. The daily lunch menu features classic items such as Cubans, reubens, Philly cheesesteaks, shepherd’s pie, and quiche. Sandwiches are served with a choice of potato salad, black bean soup, or chips.
In addition to the outdoor brick oven serving up the signature brick-oven pizzas, salmon, and wood-fire steaks on Fridays and Saturdays, spaghetti is also served with homemade sauce and garlic bread.
Currently, the owners are expanding the winery’s outside patio with a special place for wedding ceremonies, photo opportunities, and other receptions; but otherwise, they prefer to keep what they have simple.
“We want to keep a personal touch and not overbuild it, and we don’t want to turn this into more than we can handle ourselves,” Howard says.
True Blue Winery is located on 604 Pink Apartment Rd. in Davenport, FL. Hours are Wednesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
For more info call 863-419-4400, or visit TrueBlueWinery.com.