With four vineyards conveniently located in practically each corner of Harford County, you don’t have to travel all the way to Sonoma to sip award-winning wines, experience scenic vistas and learn all about the winemaking process.
In 2010, Harford County government, along with Baltimore County government and the Maryland Winery Association, created the Piedmont Wine Trail “in hopes that people would cross county borders and spend more time (and money in local businesses) in their quest for good wine,” according to Wini Roche, tourism and marketing manager for Harford County government.
The Piedmont Wine Trail comprises 10 wineries, including Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery in Havre de Grace, Fiore Winery in Pylesville, Harford Vineyard in Forest Hill and Legends Vineyard in Churchville. Five years ago, the Maryland Winery Association found that local wineries generated more than $40 million in economic activity.
“That was with 22 wineries,” explains Roche. “Maryland now has 60 [wineries], so we can surmise a threefold return now.”
In Harford County, there are plenty of opportunities to sample local wine at annual festivals, restaurant week and special promotions, such as the Wine & Roses Tour, which pairs local wineries with Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton for a picturesque day trip.
“More and more, visitors want to experience their time like the locals do … so enjoying locally grown food and wine is a trend that Harford County can certainly capitalize on,” says Roche.
Peter Ianniello, owner of Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery, agrees.
“Harford County is a great agri-tourist destination,” he says. “Many consumers enjoy ‘oenotourism’ when they may visit clusters of vineyards within relatively close proximity to one another.”
For the stunning view:
Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery
2000 Level Road, Havre de Grace | 410-939-0913 | mountfelix.com
Overlooking the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River, Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery takes the crown in the way of scenery.
The setting is special the moment you turn onto the country lane approaching Mount Felix, passing the grazing cows on the neighboring Keyes Creamery property. Then you reach the stately 19th-century Georgian-style manor house, where Peter and Mary Ianniello live with their three teenage children, and rent out a separate wing — called The Villa — to visitors.
The Ianniellos purchased Mount Felix Manor and its surrounding 15 acres of property in Havre de Grace in 2004, and opened their winery and tasting room in 2008.
“We started a vineyard because the beauty of the right vineyard in the right setting feels soothing to the soul. We wanted to create that experience for our friends and customers,” says Peter. “Mount Felix’s landscape spoke to us in that light. On the right days, or on moonlit nights, the tranquility and beauty of Mount Felix delivers that experience.”
Originally from New York , the Ianniellos have lived in Maryland for 22 years. But the family’s wine-making ancestry stems from Southern Italy. Indeed, the passport photo of Peter’s grandfather Louis Ianniello adorns the label of Mount Felix’s Emigranti wine.
The vineyard includes four acres of Chambourcin grapes. The Ianniellos purchase other grape varieties for their wines locally as much as possible, according to Mary, mainly from Maryland growers or those in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Although the 9,000-square-foot Mount Felix Manor dates back to the 1830s, the 2,000-square-foot Villa is a wing added in 1900 with a private entrance on the opposite side of the manor from the tasting room. It includes two king bedrooms and a full bath on the first floor. By design, the open-space gathering areas — the kitchen, living and dining rooms (and another half-bath) — occupy the second floor to take advantage of the water view. The refined décor is intended to complement the manor’s Georgian architecture.
Guests at The Villa are as varied as scrapbook clubs, golfers playing at Bulle Rock, families checking out the attractions in nearby cities and artists seeking inspiration (including the sculptor whose sketch of the property now adorns the label for C’est le Havre, a semisweet white wine).
The Ianniellos keep The Villa’s kitchen stocked with breakfast staples like muffins, cereal and coffee for guests.
Available to all guests is a sizable patio furnished with tables and chairs and overlooking the Bay to the south and the river to the east. The property is equipped with surround sound for live music during outdoor events starting in the spring and running through November.
Visitors are welcome to bring blankets for picnics here, or to wander the grounds. On breezy days, the Ianniellos provide kites to keep young visitors entertained.
“It’s great,” Mary Ianniello says of kite-flying at Mount Felix. “There’s no trees for them to get tangled in.”
The tasting room is housed in a small outbuilding next to the manor house that once served as the pumping room to bring well water into the home. Although restored and modernized, the room, with its sanded rustic wood walls, maintains its original charm.
Under construction this spring is a new covered open air tasting pavilion that can double as a stage for larger events.
“It’s really just a place to get away and forget about your troubles for a few hours,” Mary says of Mount Felix.
In addition to dry and sweet wines, the winery offers some fruit-based wines and seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin. Three tastings are available for $3, and a dry/sweet flight is $7 for seven wines.
The winery is open year-round, with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours are 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon until 5 p.m. on Sunday.
- Terra Maria Starting in October and lasting through the winter holidays, this versatile pumpkin wine is wildly popular. It tastes just as good chilled as it does heated in a slow-cooker with a cinnamon stick.
- Mon Cheri Come Valentine’s Day, this chocolate-cherry wine is in high demand. It tastes like the cherry cordial pictured on the label.
- Blackjack A reserve medium-bodied dry red wine with a hint of pepper and smoke.
- Emigranti Proprietor’s Reserve full-body dry red wine with cherry, spice and oak.
Mount Felix wines range in price from $12.99 to $34.99.
For a wine-maker’s education:
1311 W. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill | 443-495-1699 | harfordvineyard.com
Husband-and-wife team Kevin and Teresa Mooney began planting Vidal and Traminette grapes on their 20-acre property in Forest Hill in 2003. Six years later, they launched a full-fledged winery.
Harford Vineyard comprises 20 acres, three of which are densely planted with some 4,000 vines in three varieties — Vidal White, Traminette and Merlot.
The youngest of Harford County’s wineries, Harford Vineyard is still feeling out its customers’ preferences. When their winery opened in 2009, the Mooneys debuted with five wines and have quickly expanded their repertoire to include 13 styles.
“We try to do something for everyone’s palate — dry red, dry white, semisweet,” explains Roxanne Mooney, sales manager for the vineyard and Kevin’s sister.
Some of their award-winning wines include the 2011 Sweet Harmony, which received the silver medal in the 2012 Winemaster’s Choice Awards and silver medal in the 2012 Governor’s Cup. Described as “sunshine in a glass,” the semisweet wine combines Vidal, Traminette and Cayuga grapes. Another best-seller, the 2010 Peach Kissed Vidal, won the silver medal in the 2011 Governor’s Cup.
“Peach Kissed is a blend of Vidal grapes and fresh peaches,” says Mooney. “It’s one of our sweeter wines, but it’s real nice and refreshing.”
Housed in a rustic stone-accented barn with a green roof, Harford Vineyard boasts a spacious barrel-lined tasting room that can accommodate as many as 30 visitors. In fair weather, visitors can lounge on the barn’s comfortable side porch or at picnic tables shaded by umbrellas. Larger events can spill into an adjoining walk-in box.
Both the barn and the Mooney family home are powered by geothermal energy — a nod to the family’s Earth-friendly attitude.
“People love our tastings because we provide information about how the wine is made, so people really seem to enjoy that,” says Mooney. “And the grounds are beautiful and impeccable, so it’s a nice place to pack a picnic and enjoy a bottle of wine.”
Harford Vineyard hosts happy hour events Fridays from May through August.
Weekend performers include acoustic musicians playing everything from jazz to oldies to country.
The Mooneys also sell wine-making supplies, including grapes and juice, barrels, corks and flavorings. In the fall, available juice and grapes are local, as well as those from California and Italy, while spring brings the supply from South America.
Harford Vineyard also has the largest array of unique wine-related gifts — from wine bottles refashioned into charming table lamps to wineglasses adorned with glass beads, shirts bedazzled with cheeky wine-isms, jewelry boxes, candles, wreaths and more.
“It’s all about go-local — artists, caterers, musicians,” Mooney says of the winery’s philosophy.
For $5, you can taste all of the vineyard’s 13 wines and take home a souvenir glass. Since winemaker Kevin holds down a separate full-time job, while Teresa works part-time elsewhere as well, the winery is only open Friday through Sunday.
- Scarlette Made with sweet Concord red grapes, this has a jamlike quality.
- Proprietor’s Reserve Chambourcin A dry red similar to Pinot Noir.
- Blush of Bel Air A semisweet strawberry rosé.
Fiore wines range in price from $9.99 to $31.99 (for port-style wine Francesca, fortified with Fiore’s grappa).
For a family tradition steeped in grapes:
3026 Whiteford Road, Pylesville | 410-879-4007 | fiorewinery.com
What began as a small farm in northern Harford County has become an award-winning winery. The folks at Fiore — which is Italian for “flower” — know a thing or two about wine.
“It started out as a small vineyard as a hobby and continued to grow,” says Tony Fiore, the operations manager and grandson of Mike and Rose Fiore, who founded the Pylesville winery in 1986.
For more than three decades, the Fiore family has been growing grapes, making wines and, more recently, branching out to other spirits.
Fiore’s white buildings, with their earthy red roofs and arched walkways, hearken to the family’s Southern Italian roots. (Mike Fiore left the Calabria region of Italy at age 17 for a new life in the U.S. Although he lived just a town away from his future wife, Rose, in Italy, it wasn’t until both had taken up residence in Boston that they met and fell in love, according to their grandson Tony.)
The Fiore tasting room and banquet facilities sit atop a hill overlooking the family’s 14-acre La Felicetta Vineyard, 10 of which are planted with six varieties of grapes. The oldest vines here are the 35-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, while the youngest are the 2-year-old Sangiovese.
The property’s topography and soil quality lend themselves well to wine-making, since grapevines grow deep into the gently sloping hill, beneath which lies a water table to feed the crop, according to Tony.
Fiore produces 30 different varieties of wine (a whopping 12,000 gallons a year), as well as grappa, a grape-based brandy, and limoncello, a lemon-based liqueur made from Rose’s family recipe. In the works now is approval for a vodka distillery.
One of their best-selling dry red wines, the 2007 Sangiovese, won the 2010 Maryland Governor’s Cup “Best in Show” award. There’s also a collection of fruit-based wines that includes Apple Luscious, made with local apples; Pomegranate Zinfandel and Kiwi Pear Sauvignon Blanc.
There are plenty of nooks to relax here, from the shaded porches and gazebo to a stone patio and small garden with a fountain. It’s a tranquil setting a stone’s throw from the Pennsylvania line. You’ll find special outdoor entertainment here every Sunday from June through September, including a popular jazz festival in August.
“It’s calm,” Tony says of the vineyard. “You can come out and relax. There’s enough space.”
The grounds are open for visitors to take a stroll. Dogs are always welcome here. (Most visitors are greeted by Cinnamon, the Fiores’ Chocolate Lab.) Special dog events include a Humane Society fundraiser in May with games, music and food.
The tasting room itself is small, but larger parties can spill over, when necessary, into the two adjoining banquet rooms, one of which is decorated with a mural of an Italian countryside. Tastings are $5 per person. The winery is open seven days a week year-round with extended hours in the summer.
- Paint the Town Red A sweet red.
- Crimson Moon A blend of Merlot, Syrah and Malbec.
- Peach Kissed Vidal A blend of Vidal grapes and fresh peaches.
- Sweet Harmony A fruity, semi-sweet wine; a blend of Maryland-grown grapes.
Harford Vineyard wines range in price from $11.95 to $22.95.
For an experience as relaxing as home:
521 Asbury Road, Churchville | 410-914-5122 | legendsvineyardmd.com
Ashby and Carrie Everhart began winemaking as a hobby, but eventually it turned into a business.
And since officially opening Legends Vineyard in Churchville in 2008, the Everharts have wasted no time establishing themselves. Legends wine is featured at Ripken Stadium, home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, and more than 300 local retailers.
Legends’ repertoire now includes 14 types of wine, including Riesling and Meritage, which won gold medals in the 2011 Winemaster’s Choice Awards, and the Daylight White and Midnight Red, which won silver medals that same year.
The Everharts grow four varieties of grapes: Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Vignon.
“We’re a boutique-style winery,” says Carrie, who also is the artist responsible for Legends’ wine labels. “We try to offer a palate range.”
When you arrive at the address of Legends Vineyard, it will appear as though you’re turning into the driveway of a suburban brick Colonial home. That’s where Ashby and Carrie live with their children (six of them, between the two). But follow the driveway around the house and past some of the four acres of vines on the nearly seven-acre property, and you’ll immediately see the large tasting room — a simple gray building with black shutters.
With the capacity to seat 45, it’s the most spacious tasting room facility among the Harford wineries, but cozy as a country kitchen. Heated by a pellet stove during chilly months, the homey room is filled with dark wood and warm earthy tones — a family-style kitchen table and chandelier, a few high-topped tables with stools and overstuffed leather armchairs. The stylish modern tasting bar alone can accommodate 15 people.
Carrie calls it a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere.
During fair weather, picnic tables with umbrellas dot the property and an open field behind the winery operation is cleared for families and other guests to spread out. Children often enjoy searching for frogs and exploring the shallow stream that crosses the property. There’s live music once a month.
A special day is advertised for dog-lovers, when kiddie pools filled with water and other accommodations are made for canine visitors.
Other special events throughout the year include a chili cook-off contest, scrapbooking and singles mixers. Some of the most popular events bring in local chefs to perform tableside cooking demonstrations with, naturally, perfect wine pairings. The next of these is coming up May 4, Sangria de Mayo, with five pairings of food and sangria styles.
Legends offers tours of its wine-making facility (housed in a renovated four-stall horse barn) and bottling line. Visitors will see the most action on tours in the spring and fall.
Legends fans were delighted this spring when the popular peach wine was rebottled after a 1 ½-year wait for the fermenting process. This fruit wine is only sampled and sold on-site.
Legends’ tasting room is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
- Vidal Blanc A light white wine with floral aromas and a lemon zest finish that won the Governor’s Cup Silver Medal.
- Cabernet Sauvignon Described as a robust red wine aged in French and American barrels. It has dark fruit aromas and finishes with hints of vanilla and oak. A Governor’s Cup Gold Medal winner.
- Midnight Red A sweet red wine with flavors of freshly picked grapes. A Winemaster’s Choice Silver Medal winner.
- Cayuga A semisweet white wine with aromas of red apples, pineapples and tangerines. A Governor’s Cup Silver Medal winner.
Legends wines range in price from $11 to $20, with most costing $13.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun