Whether it’s a party, restaurant, event or just a trip down the store aisle, wine is everywhere. While it’s easy to know what seems good and bad to our tastebuds, it’s much more complicated to know why.
Luckily, we live in Maryland, where experts operate more than 60 wineries. To narrow our focus, we’ve highlighted the eight wineries that make up the Piedmont Wine Trail within Baltimore and Harford counties. Set against the beautiful countryside, these locations will teach you about what you’re consuming, while making you feel like you took a vacation to a quiet hillside.
15722 Falls Road, Sparks. 410-472-0703, basignani.com
Open: 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Picnic area: Yes
Serves food: Pizza ($12) for select events
Live music: For select events. Check website for schedule.
Groups: Pavilion area can comfortably accommodate up to 70
Pet-friendly: Dogs are OK
Fee: Yes, contact winery for rates.
Bert Basignani remembers making his first amateur wine in 1974, and since then, the lifelong Marylander has been honing his craft. But his intentions were initially modest.
“I just wanted some good wine on the table,” Basignani said recently with a laugh.
Now, in 2016, his winery produces approximately 60,000 bottles per year of 15 varieties of dry red, dry white and sweet wines across three Maryland vineyards. (The vineyard by the Sparks tasting room is about 10 acres.)
Beyond the typical tastings, the winery also hosts outdoor movie nights, “Free Fridays” featuring live music, and one-off events.
But for Basignani, the experience centers on the wines, and how they constantly evolve and surprise a drinker’s expectations.
“There was a time where I thought sweet wines were garbage,” Basignani said before admitting he just hadn’t been introduced to the right sweet wine yet. “Just because they’re sweet doesn’t meant they’re inferior.”
12820 Long Green Pike, Hydes. 410-592-5015, boordy.com
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Picnic area: Yes, has approximately 40 picnic tables
Serves food: No. Cheese and crackers available for private tours. Food trucks onsite for most fall and winter weekends.
Live music: Thursday evenings and weekends
Groups: Can accommodate several hundred people for an event and up to 40 for a planned tour. Setting up a private tasting session recommended for groups larger than six.
Pet-friendly: No, except for service dogs
Fee: Yes, contact vineyard for information
Now in its seventh decade of operation, Boordy Vineyards does very little advertising, said vice president Phineas Deford.
“It’s all based on word of mouth,” Deford said. “We’ve seen visitation grow, and I think it speaks to what we offer.”
Beyond 48 acres of grapes and the 22 types of wines Boordy produces, the Hydes operation has become a popular destination for residents of surrounding counties as well as city-dwellers needing a break from congestion. At Boordy, a glass of say, 2016 Cabernet Franc and live music can feel like a vacation without the travel expenses, which is why consumers continue to flock to the vineyard, Deford said.
“The interest has grown not only in wine, but in locally produced products,” he said. “That’s been a huge thing for not only us, but the whole Maryland wine industry.”
5300 Hydes Road, Hydes. 443-253-9802, dejonvineyard.com
Open: Noon-5 p.m. daily
Picnic area: Yes
Serves food: No, but visitors can bring food. Chef Mac’s, a Cajun-style food truck, is onsite for events
Live music: Wednesday nights (soloist/duos) and Saturday nights (classic-rock bands) in summer
Groups: 200-person maximum occupancy at all times; all groups should coordinate plans with vineyard in advance
Fee: Yes, contact winery for more information
Seated on the porch connected to DeJon Vineyard’s spacious tasting room, owner John Wilkerson lights a cigar as he leans back in his chair. Usually, he’s out here tending to the vineyard, but on this recent visit, the East Baltimore native is taking a rare break.
Earlier in the week, he hired a salesman to try to get his product on shelves outside his winery for the first time. Even with this expansion in motion, Wilkerson remains committed to a modest operation.
“We’re not looking to get rich. We’re just looking to make a living and pay the bills. We don’t want to be big at all,” Wilkerson said. “We kind of like the size we are.”
Across 45 acres, DeJon Vineyard offers a picturesque respite from the city’s close quarters and the nearby suburban sprawl. On Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summer, there’s live music, while the tasting room offers pours of DeJon’s nine varieties of wines.
A fan of dry wines, Wilkerson admits he and his wife/co-owner, Denise McCloskey, are considering adding a sweet wine to the lineup, even though they don’t personally like the style.
“We don’t want to, but it’s what sells,” Wilkerson said. “We may have to jump on the train with one.”
3026 Whiteford Road, Pylesville. 410-879-4007, fiorewinery.com
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Picnic area: Yes
Serves food: No
Live music: Sundays during the summer
Groups: Up to 50 for tours. Can accommodate business meetings and weddings up to 150 people
Pet-friendly: Yes; there is a dog on the premises
Fee: $400-$1,500, depending on event. Contact winery for more information.
This year, Fiore Winery celebrates its third decade in business. Rose Fiore, who owns the company with her husband, Mike, still marvels at how the industry has changed since the winery’s inception.
“People are more open to trying wines and they’re enjoying it. They’re going from winery to winery, and there’s so many now in Maryland,” Fiore said. “It’s been a nice transformation. It used to be an older crowd, but now it’s completely changed.”
Fiore produces a wide range of wines from dry reds and whites to semi-sweet and dessert wines. Lately, customers have been “really going for the lighter wines,” according to the owner. (The company has also diversified its products to include spirits like Limoncello and flavored moonshiners.)
The winery regularly hosts events like live music on Sundays and special parties, like its annual pig roast and the 27th annual Art, Jazz and Wine Festival taking place on Aug. 20. Regardless of the event, Fiore believes it’s the atmosphere that keeps visitors coming back.
“We don’t mind having people just come, sit around and stay as long as they want,” Fiore said. “They relax, get a glass of wine and spend a few hours with us.”
Harford Vineyard & Winery
1311 W. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill. 443-495-1699, harfordvineyard.com
Open: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Sunday (closed Tuesday-Wednesday)
Picnic area: Yes
Serves food: Usually for events
Live music: Yes, on most weekends
Groups: Up to approximately 50 per tasting group
Fee: Yes, contact winery for rates.
Harford Vineyard & Winery has a best-seller and it’s not even close, said co-owner and Overlea native Kevin Mooney.
Customers rave about the versatility of its Peach Kissed 2014, a sweet wine made of a blend of Vidal grapes and peaches. They use it for sangria and even pour it over frozen peaches.
“At a festival, we’ll sell three bottles of that to every one of something else,” Mooney said.
Mooney and his wife/co-owner, Teresa Mooney, will celebrate their seventh year as a winery in November, he said from inside the business’ new tasting room. They were initially in the juice business, selling grapes to home winemakers, but ultimately decided to try it out themselves.
Now, with a line of a dozen Maryland wines, the operation is focused on steadily improving its products each day, Kevin Mooney said. They named the company after Harford because of the pride they have for their home.
“I think Harford County has some great areas to grow” grapes, Mooney said. “There’s a lot of great wines around the world, and really, the Mid-Atlantic is no different.”
2029 Monkton Road, Monkton. 443-470-9818, millstonecellars.com
Open: 6-10 p.m. Friday; noon-6 p.m. Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Picnic area: No, but visitors can bring food inside
Serves food: No
Live music: Every Friday night, either a musician or open-mic night. Check website for schedule.
Groups: Group tours of 10 or more are $5/person. Large groups, maximum of 50, should plan ahead
Pet-friendly: Dogs on leashes permitted
Fee: Yes, depending on date and time. Contact email@example.com for more information.
If your knowledge of hard cider is limited to the popular Angry Orchard brand, take a weekend trip to Monkton’s Millstone Cellars, the cider-making outlier on the Piedmont Wine Trail.
“When people come for a tasting, we try to say, ‘Look, have you had Angry Orchard? Well, prepare yourself,’” said owner and cider-maker Curtis Sherrer.
Since 2012, Sherrer has sold ciders (made with apples picked within 150 miles of Millstone) and cysers (mead made from fermenting apple cider and honey).
Sherrer believes his cider has plenty in common with the products found on the Piedmont trail.
“There’s been a definite shift toward the more tart, dryer ciders,” Sherrer said. “To me, they’re very wine-like and much more food-oriented.”
Mount Felix Vineyard and Winery
2000 Level Road, Havre de Grace. 410-939-0913, mountfelix.com
Open: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Picnic area: Yes
Serves food: No, but outside food encouraged
Live music: On weekends — country, jazz, blues and Irish music by local musicians. Check website for schedule
Groups: Can accommodate small weddings and other similarly events. Contact winery for information.
Fee: Yes, contact vineyard for pricing.
Mary Ianniello doesn’t hesitate when asked what makes the Mount Felix Vineyard and Winery stand out on the Piedmont trail. Instead, she points to the open window.
“We literally have the best view,” Ianniello said of the serene landscape that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay. “People will come up here and say they’re in a little part of Italy.”
Opened in 2008, Mount Felix has four acres where mostly Chambourcin grapes are grown and picked for wine production. Mount Felix does not currently offer tours, and instead emphasizes the escapism its quiet backyard offers.
“A lot of people come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you could do this, this and this,’” says Ianniello, who owns the operation with her husband, Peter, the operation’s winemaker. “We don’t want that. … We know we have a lot to offer here, but we want people to just come and relax and just forget about life.”
Royal Rabbit Vineyards
1090 Jordan Sawmill Road, Parkton. 443-721-6692, royalrabbitvineyards.com
Open: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Picnic area: Yes, with expansion planned later this year. Has bocce and cornhole. Horseshoe pit coming soon.
Serves food: Serves aged cheeses ($7.50 for piece of cheese and crackers), and visitors can bring their own snacks
Live music: Rarely, but hope to host regular musicians in expanded picnic area soon.
Groups: Tasting room holds up to 30 at a time; tented area outside can accommodate 50. Contact winery ahead of time to arrange.
Pet-friendly: Small- to medium-sized dogs allowed outside. (Note: Owners have two dogs on property.) If visitor’s dog is larger, contact winery ahead of time to discuss.
Fee: Yes, contact winery for more information.
With the exception of some aged cheeses and crackers, Royal Rabbit Vineyards does not serve food. That does not mean meals aren’t a constant topic around this modest Parkton operation.
“I think wine is best enjoyed with different foods, so we try to give people ideas on how to use it,” said owner and winemaker Roy Albin of his tours.
In 2007, Albin and his wife, Linda Albin, settled in Parkton, and opened the tasting room — with its bar and tables made of cherry wood — to the public in November 2011. With five acres of vineyards, the winery produces approximately 12,000 bottles of wine per year, including six reds, three whites and a handful of lightly sweet aperitifs and dessert wines.
The goal, Albin said, is to expand the picnic area to host music events and more groups. He wants Royal Rabbit to grow to become a destination in Maryland.