Aspirations Winery: A top-rated Florida winery right in the heart of Clearwater

Tampa Bay residents don’t need to go far to enjoy the top-rated winery in Florida.

Nestled in a quaint Clearwater business park one long home run away from BayCare Baseball Park near the intersection of U.S. 19 and Drew Street, Aspirations Winery has been serving up good wine and good times for more than a decade. 

Aspirations is unique among local wineries for its “clean” wine. What does that mean? Owner Bill Linville explains that his wine is low in sulfites, which are often culpable for giving people headaches and hangovers after drinking wine. 

“We don’t put a bunch of additives and preservatives in it, which is necessary to help age wine,” he says.

“A hope. An ambition. A dream…” 

Those visiting Aspirations Winery are greeted by window art defining “aspiration” as, “A hope. An Ambition. A Dream.”

Launching Aspirations Winery was exactly that for Linville, a United States Navy veteran who served in the Presidential Honor Guard and worked for years in banking. He and his wife, Robin, both moved to Florida from Ohio years ago with hopes of opening their own business. 

Bill Linville of Aspirations Winery.“We planned to flip houses but decided to go in a different direction,” Linville says. “We were looking for a business where we could bring both of our skill sets into a niche business with a lot of flexibility and that was recession-proof.” 

But they weren’t originally focusing on opening a wine business. In fact, he says he usually got headaches after drinking even a single glass of wine – something he attributed to what he thought was a sulfite allergy. 

That was when fate led them to a wine-making supply store in Temple Terrace that was up for sale. 

“Robin had looked into it because we were both searching for opportunities – left no stone unturned,” Linville recalls. “She said they made wine that doesn’t give you headaches and that they also did custom labeling. Because of her graphic design background, we thought we could do private labeling and sell to places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.”  

Linville says he couldn’t have imagined enjoying a glass of wine without suffering from headaches and other side effects. The Linvilles were given samples of the wine to take home. 

“And, boy, did we do a proper experiment! When I woke up the next day, not only did I not have a headache, but I also couldn’t even tell I had a drink of alcohol at all,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘That’s a miracle!’” 

“Headaches not included” 

When the Linvilles established Aspirations Winery in 2010, their prime goal was to produce a variety of clean, low-sulfite wines. It’s at the heart of what they do today. 

“We buy juice from wholesale sources and then we ferment forward in a process that takes six to eight weeks,” explains Linville, who has more than a dozen stainless-steel tanks, various filtering and bottling stations and all the other equipment necessary for making this micro-winery hum with consistent results. 

“All of our wines are young wines,” he says.

This is one of the keys to what makes Aspirations Winery different. Producing young wines means the vintner can create their product without having to use the various additives and preservatives usually found in aged wines. 

“The problem in the alcohol industry is that alcoholic beverage and tobacco labeling laws don’t require individual ingredients to be listed,” Linville says. “The Food and Drug Administration allows for over 70 added preservatives in wine.” 

None of those preservatives require individual disclosure by name on a wine label, Linville says. Instead, they are usually categorized under the umbrella term “sulfites.” This is where Linville says many people end up misattributing wine sensitivities to general “sulfite allergies” when the culprit may rather be a specific type of sulfite agent. 

Linville suggests current wine-labeling requirements fly in the face of what the greater food industry mandates, where listing individual ingredients, including specific types of preservatives, is usually required. To that point, he argues wine is no different from food. 

“What’s wine made from? Grapes,” he says. “Grapes are food. And if you want to age food for 20 years you probably have to put a lot of additives and preservatives in it, right?” 

It's a problem Linville says is only exacerbated when many wineries prepare their wines to be shipped long distances in trucks, by train or other modes of shipping that lack climate controls. Aspirations Winery avoids these issues altogether by making low-sulfite wines that are hand-crafted in small batches using high-quality varietal grapes and distributing them within a smaller geographical region. 

“We like to say, ‘headaches not included,’” Linville says. 

The struggle is real

Operating Aspirations Winery hasn’t been all wine and roses. It’s a vocation that has kept the Linvilles on their toes almost since day one. When they opened many years ago, they didn’t plan on having a tasting room, let alone being open to the public. But shifts in business plans came early and often. 

“We’ve had to pivot about seven or eight times to make it,” remarks Linville, a self-proclaimed “jack of all trades.” 

In the months immediately leading up to the Linvilles’ purchase of their wine business in October 2010, flagging tourism numbers due to the then-recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico hampered sales expectations. Economic recessions and other hurdles beyond their control led the Linvilles to ponder their next moves. Then the COVID pandemic happened, forcing Aspirations Winery to close its doors for 16 months. Even after reopening, it took more than a year for the Linvilles to hire the right people to re-staff their unique business.

“We haven’t recovered even remotely from COVID,” he adds. 

But they didn’t foresee one of their most recent obstacles: losing their oldest, biggest wholesale client. 

“Mixon Fruit Farms was our very first private-label account,” says Linville of the generations-old Bradenton citrus landmark that closed its doors in July 2023. “It’s very sad.” 

Aspirations Winery still has many wholesale clients around Florida, including Gatorland in Orlando, Wine at the Docks in Tarpon Springs and a venue on Anna Maria Island. But the loss of Mixon Fruit Farms has the Linvilles brainstorming new and creative ways to reach an audience of health-conscious wine aficionados who want to shop local and support their Clearwater business. 

“We’re going to do the best we can,” he says.

The door is open

Despite the challenges Aspirations Winery has experienced, this little family and veteran-owned wine business keeps on chugging – even if uphill for the moment. When an opportunity recently came to expand into the neighboring unit in their building, the Linvilles took it. The result? A modern event center with enough seating for well more than 100 people. It’s the type of place suitable for hosting corporate events, wedding receptions, and even small concerts. 

Meanwhile, Aspirations Winery hosts art classes, dance lessons, and wine-tasting experiences, among other events. Those who buy wine on a regular basis can join Aspiration Winery’s Club Wine-O, which for a monthly membership fee offers bottles at reduced prices as well as benefits like free glasses of wine, free T-shirts, drawings for gift cards, and other perks. Locals and visitors alike can mingle in the tap room, where their diverse selection of more than 30 clean, low-sulfite dry red, white, and dessert wines are offered alongside local craft beers on tap, cider, spiked seltzers, and specialty sangrias. They even have meats and cheeses on hand for build-your-own charcuteries.

The culmination of their handcrafted wines, friendly service, and inviting ambiance has earned Aspirations Winery high accolades as the best winery in Florida from Choice Wineries, Yelp, and House Beautiful magazine. Trip Advisor lists Aspirations Winery as one of the top things to see and do in Clearwater. Yet, Linville says he receives more business from tourists rather than locals. 

“We did live music radio, TV, print, direct mail, social media, hosted a sangria festival… We do a lot of community outreach,” he adds, noting charitable 5K events they recently hosted brought hundreds of people to their Clearwater winery. 

Many Tampa Bay residents who do stop in seem surprised there is a winery tucked inside a business park so close to the beaches, shopping malls and other landmarks in Pinellas County. 

“The feedback is good because we realize as much exposure as we try to get, it’s not enough,” Linville says.

Mentorships: The key to success 

Even with his plethora of wines catering to many palettes, Linville knows he won’t be able to please everyone. But he tries.

“We’re not the number-one winery because we make the best wine,” he says. “We’re the number-one winery because of the experience we give people when they come and visit us.” 

He says much of what goes into crafting the inviting atmosphere he strives for is built around hiring the right people, or “personalities,” as he says. 
“We’re good people, and we treat you like family whether you like it or not,” Linville says.

Much of this philosophy comes from Linville’s own desire to be an upstanding business leader. 

“It didn’t matter what business I ended up having, I wanted to be the right business owner,” he says.”What I mean by that is running a business that is part of the community, giving back, working with many different charities and hosting fundraising events.” 

He also knew he couldn’t do all that he wanted to do alone. Several years back, he joined the local chamber of commerce, which was rebranded as AMPLIFY Clearwater in 2019. He eventually learned he could only get out of his membership what he put into it. 

“If you’re not going to be active in the chamber, it’s hard for the chamber to be active with you,” Linville says.

A member of AMPLIFY Clearwater today, Linville says mentorship is invaluable. 

“Always have mentors from day one,” he advises. “I am where I am today because of the mentorships that I have had and the advice I have been given."

Then there are the relationships he’s built. 

“The greatest thing that happened by being a member is that I have some really good friends,” Linville says. “At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on friendships – especially the really good ones.”

For more information, go to Aspirations Winery.
This story is produced through an underwriting agreement between AMPLIFY Clearwater and 83 Degrees Media. 
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Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.