Florida Orange Groves Winery in the News!14-Mar-2011
For three years, Lance Shook spent his days in a suit and tie working as the assistant vice president of the Bank of Asheville in North Carolina.
These days his attire has become a bit more casual since returning to his hometown of St. Petersburg last August to join the family business — Florida Orange Groves Inc. and Winery.
"My dad and I met, talked a little bit, he made me a pretty good offer and here I am today," said Shook, who graduated from UCF in 2004 with a bachelor's in finance and later from Western Carolina University with a master's in business administration. "I'm glad to be back with the family business and using all the skills I learned through college and my master's to help out and grow the business."
Shook's father, Vince, the president of the company, said that before his son came to work for him, the business was in a period of transition.
"We were deciding whether or not we were going to continue on as a family business or start up a program to divest ourselves as a business," Vince said.
Vince's parents, also employees at the winery, are both 83-years-old. With Vince and his wife in their 60s, he was worried about the winery's future and hoped his son would want to join the business.
"Eventually we made him an offer he couldn't refuse," Vince said.
Lance, the winery's vice president, wasn't involved with the company in its infancy because it was his senior year of high school and he was busy applying to colleges. After taking a tour of UCF, he knew it was where he wanted to go to school for a finance degree.
"I thought I wanted to be a stockbroker or something like that," Lance said.
While attending UCF, many of his friends would ask what his parents did for a living.
"I'd always tell them we had a tropical, citrus and berry winery and they were always intrigued by that," Lance said. "Toward my senior year at UCF, everybody that I knew loved it. I could get the guy across the hall to do anything if I gave him a bottle of blueberry wine."
Since his return to the winery, Lance has taken steps to bring the business up to date.
"He's brought us into the real world with technology, financing and accounting, some different marketing strategies and redesigned our website for us," Vince said.
Lance said that, since designing a new website, Internet sales have gone up quite a bit.
"I'm definitely not an IT guy, but I'm trying," Lance said. "One of the projects that I've been working on, I'd say forever, is a rebrand of our existing store, our labels primarily and the image of the business."
The labels on the wine bottles haven't changed since the winery's establishment in 1997.
The Shook family originally started developing their unique wines in 1991, but prior to that they were in the citrus industry. The idea to make wine out of citrus came from someone else entirely.
"We were into our honeybell tangelo season, so we were squeezing that juice at the time," Vince said. "There was a gentleman who came in and asked about pricing on a five-gallon container of the juice because he wanted to make some wine out of it."
Vince said his family found that interesting, so instead of making him pay for the juice, they asked him to bring them a couple bottles of the wine when it was finished.
"A year went by and I didn't see him, so I thought that was over and done with and next thing you know he shows up with a couple of bottles of tangelo wine," Vince said. "That's when we tasted it and the light bulb went on and we said ‘let's look into this.' "
The Shooks spent several years testing different methods of making citrus and other fruits into wine with the hopes of eventually opening a winery. They already had a location that they had bought in 1978 and operated as a restaurant for several years before joining the citrus industry.
"We did have concerns. We didn't know about pricing and a whole host of issues. We were basically amateur wine makers at that time trying to go to the next step, so we kept the citrus operation and we added a small square footage amount for the winery," Vince said. "We started out with maybe five or six different kinds of wine to see how it would go. It was received pretty well and then over the years it grew. The citrus industry in Florida was in decline anyway due to competition from foreign markets and the freezes, so it was a natural transition for us."
Though it was received well, others had harbored doubts early on.
"A lot of the old timers told us you couldn't make wine out of the citrus juices, but we kept at it," Vince said.
Even Vince's mom, Gladys, had her doubts because no one had ever successfully made wine out of citrus, but her doubts were quickly cast aside once the wines started turning out well.
"Now, we're the second largest winery in the state of Florida...and the original tropical winery," Gladys said.
Gladys said that in the beginning, people questioned the realness of the wine.
"If we don't make real wine, where did all these wine awards come from?" Gladys said. "People kind of looked down their noses at us because we were not the traditional wine makers."
Uniqueness breeds success
Being nontraditional is what Vince thinks helped things turn out for the better.
"Not taking any formal courses, I think it was good," Vince said. "My dad and I were both engineers, so rather than try and take courses that would put us into the traditional wine making mentality, we just played around with it on our own with basic knowledge."
Using that basic knowledge would lead them to win more than 235 various awards and medals from state fairs and wine competitions. Most recently, their Key Limen wine earned the "Best of Show" medal at the Florida State Fair in both the commercial fruit wine competition and the Florida State Wineries competition.
"They don't really have any competition at this moment that I know of or that they know of," said UCF alumnus and assistant winemaker Ryan Miller.
Miller, who graduated in fall of 2009 with a bachelor's in business management, has been working at the winery for a year, but his family has been friends with the Shooks for several years and his mom serves as their office manager.
As the assistant winemaker, Miller's day consists of cleaning the fermentation tanks, checking the fermentation temperatures and alcohol levels throughout the day, placing bottles on the machine that cleans them and fills them with wine and loading trucks with cases of wine. He also samples the 41 varieties wine to ensure that the quality and taste is consistent.
"It keeps me on my toes for sure," Miller said. "I didn't really have much experience in this field, but at the same time I knew I could handle it because I worked very hard for my degree."
Miller said that although he went to school for a field that would typically have him behind a desk, working with his hands at a winery is more up his alley and he hopes to stay in that kind of industry.
Lance hopes to help the company grow to mirror the success of one of America's most famous brands.
"I think one day I'd definitely like to be in the position to run the company," Lance said. "I'd like to grow it to a household brand name, like Heinz Tomato Ketchup or something."
A special thanks to Katie Kustura, and Katie Dees for taking time out of their spring break to come visit us to write this article and take photos!
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