By Gary Nager
The Aspirations Winery, located on E. Fowler Ave. in Temple Terrace (in the same plaza as CDB’s Pizza, just 20-25 minutes from most of Wesley Chapel, which no longer has a wine bar of its own), is definitely a unique place that is well worth visiting. Owner Bill Linville is always happy to give you a quick tour of his working winery, where he makes a nice variety of red, white and fruit-infused wines.
Aspirations, which originally was better known as “Wine Not?” when New Tampa resident Bob French originally opened it in the same location back in 2003, is an elegant-looking locale for sampling some tasty (seriously) wines and to purchase great gifts for virtually any occasion, from a unique birthday present to wedding favors for 200 or more people. And, Linville has added some other unique features, including a “Monet & Merlot” painting class (more on this below).
Linville, who lives in Pinellas County with his wife Robin, actually found a listing for Aspirations on Craig’sList.com when he was looking for a new business a little more than a year ago. The former banker, who was most recently with 5/3 Bank for seven years, says he “definitely wasn’t looking for a winery, but I really thought this seemed like a fun, interesting business.”
The first question many people ask is where Linville gets the grapes for his wines, since there obviously are no vineyards located behind the shopping center. “All of the wines we sell and serve are made right here,” he says. “We can order the ‘must’ (the juice of the grapes) of more than 125 grape varieties from just about anyplace around the world and make any type of wine in the three large tanks inside the winery,” he says. “And, all of our wines are low-sulfite (a common wine preservative) wines, which means that their shelf life is only about two or a maximum of about two-and-a-half years.”
Of the wines regularly made and kept on-hand at Aspirations are a nice cabernet sauvignon-shiraz blend called Swamp Juice, cab, merlot, raspberry merlot, Chilean carmenere and my favorite (of course), a very smooth, drinkable malbec. I’m not quite as into white wine, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the peach-infused chardonnay. It tastes like a champagne Bellini cocktail, without the bubbles.
I was impressed to also find opportunities to order some of my other favorite grape varieties, including sangiovese, temparanillo, grenache, Super Tuscan and even an authentic Italian amarone. Varietals that interest many people include a Washington state merlot, Australian cab and pinot grigio. “The ‘must’ that we receive is a blend of available grapes from a variety of wineries,” Linville says. “We therefore can’t get the same grapes used in a particular wine or guarantee a region where the grapes come from, but these are all quality grapes.”
Great Tasting Events
In addition to being able to sample up to three of the wines on hand at Aspirations any time for free (or ten samples for just $5), Linville offers regular tasting events, where all you pay is $1 for each 2-3-oz. sample with no admission or cover charge. He also provides drawings for some great prizes, free wine smoothie samples, light hors d’oeuvres (including some tasty CDB pizza) and live entertainment for each tasting.
“The tastings are a great way to sample our wines and experience the winery in a social setting,” he says. “And, we offer discounted pricing on bottles in the store during the tastings, too.” The next tasting event will be held Thursday, November 17, beginning at 7 p.m. “We did three in October and they were all very successful,” Linville says. “You can check our website for our entire event calendar each month.” Jazzy R&B pianist Omar Davis provides the entertainment, which serves as enjoyable background music for great conversation.
I attended the third and final tasting held in October and there were several couples visiting, about half of whom had never visited Aspirations before. During the tasting, a regular customer named Lauren came in to buy several bottles of wine, including two bottles of Aspirations’ peach chardonnay.
“I love all the wines here,” she said. “Especially the peach chardonnay!” Linville says that many of his regular customers are fans of the fruit-infused wines. “They go great with spicy foods, like Thai or spicy Mexican,” he says. “They’re very popular.”
‘Monet & Merlot’
Another popular reason to visit Aspirations are the twice-monthly “Monet & Merlot” events, where a professional artist conducts a three-hour class for up to a maximum of 16 students and provides all of the artist’s materials for each participant. The cost of the class is $40 per person and Linville offers a $15 all-you-can-drink special during the class.
“The classes sell out pretty quickly,” Linville says. “And, for single guys, it’s a great way to meet single women in a unique atmosphere.” The next “Monet & Merlot” classes will be held Friday, November 11, and Friday, November 18.
Custom-Label Wines & Other Great Gifts
Linville says there’s no doubt that creating custom-label wines for individuals and companies is the biggest part of his business.
And, when he says “custom,” he really means it. A professional graphic artist has created a series of bottle label templates you can use as the basis for your own labels or Linville can have a unique one created from scratch for you. You also can design your own label from start to finish.
If you’re planning to order custom-label wines for holiday gifts, there is still time.
“It only takes a few days from approval of the proof of your label until we have them here in house,” he says. “And, for orders of less than six cases, your custom-label wines (with labels attached) can be ready for you in 2-4 weeks. “It takes four to six weeks maximum for six cases or more.”
And, Aspirations can ship your gifts anywhere in Florida all year-round and to all but 14 other U.S. states from October until May. “Because of our low-sulfite content, we can’t ship wines outside of Florida during the summer. If the wine sits in a hot truck or warehouse for several days, it could affect the wine.”
Aspirations also has some incredible wood gift boxes available with custom engraving. Wood gift boxes start as low as $15-$17 and can cost as much as $55-$70 for the highest-quality engraved boxes, which also come with a corkscrew, stoppers and other tools (photo). There’s even a “Houdini” box, with a bottle of wine and even fancier tools in a clear plastic box.
And, speaking of the holidays, Linville says one of his top sellers during the holidays is the cranberry-infused shiraz. “We can’t keep enough of it on the shelves during the holidays, but it doesn’t really sell very well the rest of the year,” says Linville. “Go figure.”
For more information about Aspirations Winery (5116 E. Fowler Ave.), including the upcoming event schedule, call 988-2010 or visit AspirationsWinery.com.