Gary Roberts, founder of Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery was named 2015 Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship for his work pivoting during the Great Recession from a nursery and landscape business into a vineyard and winery.
"When I was researching whether I wanted to do this, I read 20 plus textbooks on winemaking and visited every winery in Florida I could to meet their wine maker and see their operation," he said. "Then I did a 35-page strategic plan. One thing I noticed was that the wineries I visited often were similar - based on a traditional old world feel and as a result, all had a more sophisticated European winery vibe. They all started running together in my head and I couldn't recall a certain winery because they were all so similar. I decided everything I did here would be different. We have vintage surfboards made into tables in our pavilion that you don’t see anywhere else. Another example is we have fun with the names of our wines - our port wine is named Not-Starboard for example. We also have Marlin Monroe, That's What She Said Red, Webejammin, Pink Flamango, and several others all with a fun feel."
Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery makes and sells Florida Muscadine wine that has won the gold medal at the Fingerlakes International Wine Competition an four years in a row against a field of all the world's major growing regions – a feat unprecedented for Muscadine wine. Roberts, with his wife Susan and sons Bud and Allen together seek to provide an all-encompassing boutique winery experience for their customers.
The company's tag line, Florida's Original Sun and Surf Winery Experience, describes how it differentiates itself from other wineries. "We've embraced the Florida and Muscadine grape vibe which is very different than the rest of the grape varietals that are common around the country," he explained. "We make sure that we express that difference in everything we do here. We have all four components of a boutique winery – a vineyard, a tasting room with a gift shop, a cellar where we make the wine and a festival area where we have events with live music every Sunday and special events like concerts, car shows and music festivals throughout the year."
This Entrepreneur of the Year has valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Learn to listen to your gut and your heart to determine what you want to do and have a passion for. Once you decide, you have to be all in. You can't even think you're not going to make it. Failure is not an option," he said. "Once you're in, you do everything you can as well as you can. Join trade associations, read books on the subject, visit successful people in the industry, live the business 24 hours a day every day, give back to the community that has supported your business, surround yourself with good people and treat everyone like you’d want to be treated."