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Winery, vineyard proposed for Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County is a long way from the vineyards of California but one Hungarian couple hopes to bring a taste of the grape to this area and educate people on the art of wine barrel production.

Zemplén Barrels Wineries Inc., a Brooksville-based limited liability company, will ask planning and zoning commissioners Jan. 13 for a special exception use permit to operate a winery on 13.1 acres at 7029 Cedar Lane, just south of Cortez Boulevard.

Anna Kallai said the company will spend about $1 million to build the facility. If they get the necessary permits, construction would start in February and a May or June opening is planned, she added.

Kallai credits County Commissioner-Economic Development Director Len Sossamon for making this happen in Hernando County.

Anna Kallai said she and her husband had considered going to Virginia to open the business but were talked out of it by Sossamon who persuaded the couple that Hernando was the ideal place.

The winery would seem to follow Sossamon’s long-range strategic plan for Hernando County that there be an emphasis on recruiting businesses that have tourism or agricultural components.

“This is a project that fits within the county administrator’s economic and tourism vision,” said Virginia Singer, county public information manager. “It’s something that will bring more tourists to our county.”

The winery will consist of five separate structures: three residential units, an educational center and a clubhouse.

The Kallai family, she said, has been involved in the winemaking business since 1962. The family moved from Hungary to the United States in 1987.

They bought the Cedar Lane property at the end of August. This Brooksville site will be special she said, because it will contain a winery and a cooperage where the barrels and casks used for wine-making are built.

One of the existing residential structures will be razed and converted into the cooperage. The remaining structures on site, all in varying states of disrepair, will be renovated.

“You can find a cooperage and a winery but both at the same time and place are rare,” Anna Kallai said.

There are only about 18 wineries in Florida, most of them centered around the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, she said.

The Kallais, their daughter Kristina Kallai and two partners formed the LLC and will operate the local business if it gets the necessary clearances and permits from the county.

“Hernando County needs something different and we would like to give something to the people over here,” she said.

The highlight of the operation will be the making of the wine barrels.

“Zemplén Barrels, a family-owned and operated Hungarian cooperage, has been manufacturing oak barrels exclusively from world-class oak wood … with consistent quality and outstanding craftsmanship since 1962,” according to the company’s website.

The winery and tasting room will allow customers to buy high quality wines and draft beers. Wine and beer tasting will take place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Patrons will be treated to light, background music and there will be a small on-site vineyard, containing grapes for wine production.

The facility will manufacture wine in .25-gallon to 132-gallon American, Hungarian and hybrid oak barrels and people can tour the cooperage and learn barrel making techniques.

The conference and education center will provide training and seminars for home and professional winemakers, host national and international wine competitions and exhibit new products.

The Brooksville facility will also host special events, including Halloween parties, birthdays, bridal and wedding events, Bar Mitzvahs and corporate events.

Planning and zoning staffers are recommending approval of the special exception use permit. The land is located in a rural land classification and there are many single-family homes and mobile homes in the vicinity.

Planners are recommending that the company provide cut-off lighting fixtures to prevent light from spilling onto neighboring parcels. Anna’s husband, Sandor (Sonny) Kallai, said there will be ambient lighting on the property.

Kallai said in a memo to the planning department the facility would accommodate the future uses of agricultural tourism.

The proposed winery and tasting room will produce and mature different wines made in oak barrels which will then be sold to tourists, locals and surrounding county consumers, said Sandor Kallai.

“(The company’) mission is to provide the highest quality education, wines, beers and oak barrels to its customers and to create a unique, beloved, animal- and kid-friendly community/tourist/educational center with countless opportunities,” Kallai wrote.

The planning and zoning meeting will be at 9 a.m. Jan. 13 at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.

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