Alumni Spotlight: Cynthia Connolly

Alumni Spotlight: Cynthia Connolly

You don’t have to be a sommelier to enjoy a good glass of wine. You should, however, be knowledgeable about what it takes to run a successful business if you’re going into the wine-making industry. Cynthia Connolly (BA ’72) had not only the knowledge but the passion to do just that.

Connolly, who graduated from Barry University with a bachelor’s in English and French, owns Ladybird Organics in Monticello, Fla. The company, which she started in 1989, is home to Monticello Vineyards & Winery, a 50-acre farm that produces USDA certified organic grapes and other products. It’s also Florida's only organic farm winery, specializing in Muscadine wines. Muscadines, Connolly says, are perhaps the most nutritious of all grapes and are sought for their health properties.

Connolly has technical specialties in many areas, including horticulture, organic agriculture, agricultural mechanics. Pair that with a doctorate in agricultural education with a minor in agricultural engineering from Iowa State University, and it’s easy to understand her interest in wine and organic farming.

“Planting a vineyard was part of my 50-acre, diversified, organic farm operation,” said Connolly, who got into the wine-making business after spending 10 years in international agricultural education. “After winning first place in hobby wine making at the state fair, I incorporated Monticello Vineyards & Winery and got my wine manufacturer and retailer licenses in 2001.”

More than 18 varieties of Muscadine grapes are grown on the farm, where small batches of hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind wines are produced. The winery has a 1,000-gallon wine capacity. Connolly, who typically works from sun up to sun down, has help from two to four workers and volunteers on a seasonal basis. While her winery is smaller, it’s making a big contribution to Florida’s ever-growing wine industry.

According to the 2017 Economic Report on Wine by John Dunham & Associates in New York, the wine industry generates nearly $11 billion annually to Florida’s economy. There are other winery’s in Florida, but Connolly says that since hers is specialized, competition hasn’t really been a factor. She also has another advantage in the fact that she grows and sells other products from her farm to other local establishments, and then there’s the seasonal tourists who come to visit the winery. Those who can’t make it to the winery can purchase products online.

“It has not been my experience that there is an increase in local competition. Wines are unique and distinct products of place and time,” Connolly said. “Various fruits besides grapes are grown for the fresh fruit market and sold to the local health food stores. Other farm products, including grape vines, fruit trees and other plants, and worm castings are sold locally as well. Monticello Vineyards & Winery is certified as a Florida Farm Winery by the Florida Department of Agriculture, designating it as a tourist attraction.”

As a successful businesswoman and Barry alumna, Connolly knows it takes hard work and commitment to run a business. She also knows it’s important to love what you do, and gives some good advice to anyone else thinking about starting their own business.

“Good business is built on a solid foundation,” Connolly says. “Work hard at something you love, have two ways to pay back any debt, never compromise your core values and make your life energy matter in some form of contribution.”