Ripe for discovery Tour: Like the Napa Valley before them, Maryland's vineyards are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Meanwhile, the wine is fine, and getting there's quicker.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In last Sunday's Travel section, an incorrect phone number was given for Loew Vineyards in Mount Airy, Md. The correct number is 301-831-5464.

The Sun regrets the error.

Sitting on the veranda of Fiore Winery in Harford County, one could easily mistake it for a winery from a few decades ago, when Napa Valley was struggling to become a world center of fine wine production. A refreshing breeze wafts across the picturesque vineyards, and you can smell the sweet grapes just emerging on the vine. As you sip a glass of deep, dry Chambourcin and savor its cherry and pepper undertones, your eyes take in the gently rolling hills of rural Graceton Valley.

But then Rose and Mike Fiore come out to join you for conversation as rich as their red wines, and any similarity to Napa Valley quickly disappears. Suddenly, you're with family.

One of the true joys of touring Maryland's up-and-coming wineries is the opportunity to talk directly with the winemakers, to share their passion for their craft. Unlike tours in Napa or Sonoma or even Washington state's Willamette Valley, visits here will most probably be guided by the winemaker himself, a member of the immediate family.

An eclectic mix of winemakers practice their craft at Maryland's nine wineries, which produced 59,000 gallons of wine in 1996. Among them are an aerospace engineer, a retired federal bureaucrat, a Holocaust survivor and a retired chemist.

Mike Fiore, who manages to hold down a full-time job with BGE, is a passionate winemaker with 300 years of family winemaking heritage behind him. Fiore earned the prestigious cellar master designation in his native Calabria, Italy, at age 17 and then went on to study viniculture and enology at the University of Florence. Between wine tastings, visitors listen to Mike and his wife Rose's winemaking tales, which are nothing short of enchanting.

With the exception of Catoctin Winery in Brookeville, Maryland's wineries are clustered in two major groups, each of which makes a wonderful day or weekend trip. (But be careful about attending too many tastings, then driving from winery to winery.)

My first tour began in Baltimore and continued due west on Interstate 70, where I visited three wineries: Linganore Winecellars, Loew Vineyards and Elk Run Vineyards. We tend to forget how close to Baltimore lie the rolling hills and quiet serenity of Western Maryland. In an hour, I was approaching Linganore along winding Glissans Mill Road, a pretty, rural byway with eye-catching views of dairy and wheat farms.

Maryland winery tours and tastings are delightfully informal affairs. Forget the snobbery of Napa Valley, where crowds of visitors dutifully nod their heads in agreement with the tour guide's perceptions, even though she may be younger than your youngest daughter. When I reached Linganore, there was no crowd, and Lucille Greco-Aellen, the personable co-owner of the winery, was my guide. She provided me with a taste card listing the wines in the order I would taste them. As she poured a small sample into the glass, we discussed the characteristics of the wine and my reactions. Another couple entered the tasting room, and we bantered back and forth, with Greco-Aellen smoothly switching between server and social host.

Typical of my winery visits, five minutes after I met Greco-Aellen, she treated me to a family "secret," now shared by several area chefs. Freeze individual red seedless grapes and drop them into a glass of chilled dessert wine for a long-lasting summertime treat.

Linganore's popular dessert wines reflect the family's winemaking philosophy. "We have no 'best wine,' " Greco-Aellen says. "We think what you like best is our best wine." Aellen's 38-year-old son, Anthony, is now the family winemaker. He led our tour, enthusiastically explaining how wine is turned from nutritious but otherwise uninspired and unmotivated grapes to its higher purpose in life, fine wine. Anthony is charged with expanding the winery from its current 55,000 gallons a year to a projected 180,000 gallons to satisfy Marylanders' appetite for the lighter, fruitier wines for which Linganore is known.

Only 10 minutes from Linganore is Loew Vineyards, owned by Lois Loew and her husband, winemaker William. Established in 1982, the Loews grow nine different varietal grapes on their 5 acres. William is restoring his family's Austrian winemaking tradition, tragically interrupted by the Nazi Holocaust. "A lot of winemaking is intuitive," William says, reflecting a typical Maryland-winemaker viewpoint. "I've been working wine for 30 years and I keep on experimenting with different wines." As Lois and I strolled the vineyards, I sipped a small glass of their sweet and refreshing honey wine, an Austrian winemaking tradition.

Just down the road from Loew is the award-winning Elk Run Vineyards and Winery, owned by Carol and Fred Wilson. Their 14 immaculately groomed acres include five varietal grapes, producing about 7,000 gallons of wine and garnering them some 44 medals. The winery is undergoing major renovatiod expansion, but if you hurry, you'll still be able to do your tasting at the wonderful old tavern building on their property. The new facilities will better accommodate their popular festivals, which already include a stage for musicians.

North Country

The wineries north of Baltimore begin so close to downtown you can almost smell them. Boordy Vineyards, established in 1945 and Maryland's oldest winery, is located in Hydes, amid the green pastures and woods of northeast Baltimore County, just 15 minutes from the Beltway. Its lovingly restored barn is a focal point for winemaking, tastings and the more than 35 events put on each year. Its Great Chefs and Champagne event each May is a sellout and marries the culinary art of Baltimore's top chefs with the release of Boordy's latest champagne. Looking toward the dog days of summer, Boordy is an inviting destination for its Champagne Sorbet Sundays. In winter, its wreath-making workshops ingeniously recycle grapevine prunings.

"We like to have many smaller events, where we can interact with our guests one on one," says Robert DeFord, Boordy's owner and winemaker.

Another 20 minutes northwest of Boordy sits the lovely Basignani Winery in Sparks. As you turn off the road and cross a tiny wood bridge, you enter Basignani's cobblestone driveway, bordered with wildflower plantings. The genteel image quickly fades when you meet Mike Vinzant, cellar master and vineyard master, for your tasting. Vinzant, a former carpenter, is a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is guy, who will keep you laughing with his wry observations.

From Basignani, take off due north on Route 83 and you'll be at Woodhall Vineyards and Wine Cellars in less than 20 minutes. Woodhall sits on the Gunpowder River, immediately adjacent to Gunpowder Falls State Park. Here, Chris Kent, winery assistant, led me through the trials and tribulations of making wine in Maryland, all over a pouring of their notable Seyval, a smooth blend of white grapes with buttery and citrus notes. Woodhall has a nice gift shop to complement the wine tasting experience.

After enjoying the vineyards of Woodhall, drive 30 minutes due west around scenic Prettyboy Reservoir to Manchester in neighboring Carroll County. Here you will find Maryland's newest winery, Cygnus, which opened to the public about eight months ago and is located downtown in a converted slaughterhouse. Cygnus buys all its grapes at this point, but owner Ray Brasfield is a consultant to wineries in Maryland and Pennsylvania, so wine enthusiasts will gain much from talking to Brasfield. Tastings range from dry and semi-dry table wines to champagnes.

My final weekend stop was Fiore Winery in rural Pylesville, Harford County. The Fiores are creating the ideal family winery experience, with their outdoor picnic areas under grape arbors or among landscaped waterfalls. Picnic tables and cafe tables and chairs dot the property, while easy chairs on the veranda complete the experience. If you happen by while the family is out in the vineyards, don't be surprised to hear opera coming from the fields. Fiore is just 30 minutes from Havre de Grace, where you can walk the Promenade, enjoy its many antiques stores, or eat at one of the fine restaurants on the water.

Southern Exposure

South of Baltimore, in Brookeville, is Catoctin Winery, on the Howard-Montgomery County line. You can make Catoctin part of a wonderful weekend afternoon outing, located as it is next to the Tridelphia Reservoir and Azalea Gardens, where you can hike, fish or just admire the colorful plantings.

Catoctin Winery does not put on events, but it has regular tastings, tours and wine sales from its winery building. Owner Bob Lyon, a former aerospace engineer, started the winery in 1975. You'll enjoy seeing the wines aging in French oak barrels and share Lyon's knowledge of the winemaking process.

WHEN YOU GO

Background: For a brochure describing Maryland wineries, hours operation, directions, nearby attractions and wine-festival events, call the Association of Maryland Winemakers (800-237-WINE) or visit its Web site at www.marylandwine.com. Also, call the winery before you visit to check tasting hours.

Getting there: For the Western Maryland wineries, make a loop that begins with Linganore Winecellars, then continues to Loew Vineyards and Elk Run Vineyards. Take Interstate 70 west to Exit 62, Maryland Route 75 north, and continue about 4.5 miles past )) New Market. Turn right onto Glissans Mill Road. Continue four miles to winery on your right.

When leaving Linganore, follow driveway back to Glissans Mill Road and make a right out of the entrance. Continue .9 of a mile to the end of the road and make a left onto Woodville Road. Take Woodville about 3.5 miles to the next stop sign, where you will make a left and then an immediate right onto Clemsonville Road. Continue 500 feet and make a right onto Maryland Route 26 (this is an unmarked road, but there are signs down the street to ensure you've reached the correct route). Loew Vineyards is located half a mile up Route 26 on the right.

From Loew, make a right onto Route 26 and follow for 1.5 miles to the Elk Run Vineyards, which is located on the left side of Route 26.

For Baltimore, Harford and Carroll County wineries, make a loop that begins with Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, then continues to Basignani, Woodhall, Cygnus and Fiore. Take Interstate 695 to Exit 29A and turn left off exit onto Cromwell Bridge Road. Drive about three miles and turn left onto Glen Arm Road. Drive three miles and turn left onto Long Green Pike; the winery is located two miles farther on left.

To continue on to Basignani, make left out of Boordy onto Long Green Pike. Make first left on Hydes Road and follow to the end; turn right onto Manor Road and make left at first light onto Sweet Air Road. Continue on Sweet Air through Jacksonville where it becomes Papermill Road. At end of Papermill, go right on York Road, then turn left at first light onto Shawan Road. Continue on Shawan to Falls Road, where you will make a right. Follow Falls Road for five miles through Butler and past Maryland Route 88 to the Basignani driveway, which is the third on the left after Route 88.

To get to Woodhall, make a right out of Basignani's entrance and go back down Falls Road, turning left onto Shawan Road and continuing back to York Road. Make a left onto York and look for Woodhall, which will be 10 miles along on the left.

To continue on to Cygnus, make a right onto York Road from the entrance to Woodhall and follow it south about two miles to the intersection of York and Mount Carmel roads in Hereford. Make a right onto Mount Carmel Road (Maryland Route 137) and follow it 10 miles to Hampstead, where the name of the road changes to Lower Beckleysville. Continue on Lower Beckleysville until it intersects with Maryland Route 30. Turn right onto Route 30 north and follow five miles into Manchester. Once in downtown Manchester, make a right from Route 30 onto Beaver Street and then a left onto Long Lane. Cygnus is located on the right about a block and a half down Long Lane. The sign is a bit hidden, so pay attention.

To continue on to Fiore, head out of Cygnus making a left onto Long Lane and follow that to Beaver Street, where you will make a right. Continue on Beaver and then make a left onto Maryland Route 30. Travel on Maryland Route 30 until you can make a left back onto Maryland Route 137. Take 137 to Interstate 83 north. Take I-83 to Exit 36 and make a left onto Maryland Route 439 east. Follow it to Maryland Route 23 north, where you will make a left and continue about seven miles. At Maryland Route 136 South, make a right and follow about six miles until crossing Maryland Route 24. Continue on Route 136 South another mile and look for Fiore Winery on the right.

Catoctin is located between Baltimore and Washington. Take Interstate 70 west to Maryland Route 97 south and turn left onto New Hampshire Avenue. Drive to Greenbridge Road and turn left. The winery is immediately on the left.

Contacting the wineries

* Basignani: tours, tastings and sales by appointment on weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends. Calling ahead is recommended; 15722 Falls Road Sparks; 410-472-0703.

* Boordy: tours and tastings daily on the hour from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sales are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; 12820 Long Green Pike, Hydes; 410-592-5015.

* Catoctin: open weekdays for sales and weekends for tours from noon to 5 p.m. Tours available by appointment through the week; 805 Greenbridge Road, Brookeville; 301-774-2310.

* Cygnus: open weekdays by appointment only and on weekends from noon to 5 p.m.; 3130 Long Lane, Manchester; 410-374-6395.

* Elk Run: open Monday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; 14113 Liberty Road, Mount Airy; 410-875-2009 www.elkrun.com.

* Fiore: open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.; 3026 Whiteford Road, Pylesville; 410-879-4007; www.fiorewinery.com.

* Linganore: open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.; 13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mount Airy; 410-795-6432; www.linganore-wine.com.

* Loew: open weekdays by appointment, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; 14001 Liberty Road, Mount Airy; 410-831-5464.

* Woodhall: open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.; 17912 York Road, Parkton; 410-357-8644.

WINE FESTIVALS

From spring through late fall, dozens of wine festivals dot the state. In Maryland, wine festivals come in two varietals, home grown and commercial.

Home-grown wine festivals, like Fiore's popular Wine, Jazz and Art Festival (Aug. 22-23) take place on the property of the winemakers, allowing visitors an opportunity to stroll among the vineyards and winemaking operations. A typical home-grown wine festival features a jazz band, local craftsmen, homemade foods, tours and games for the kids. They are fun, and a great way to share your enthusiasm for wine with people of like mind who always seem eager to impart their bargain wine recommendations. Winemakers are invariably happy to share their knowledge and patiently answer questions again and again.

Other events at area wineries include:

* Boordy Vineyards serves up complimentary champagne and sorbet every Sunday in July from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

* Linganore has two weekends of reggae wine festivals, June 27-28 and July 18-19 from noon to 6 p.m. There will be more than 25 arts and crafts vendors as well as reggae bands Access, Jah Works and Mojo Nya performing. Admission is $6 per person and includes an etched wine glass, 12 tastings and a winery tour.

On the commercial side, several major wine festivals are put on by towns, most notably in Annapolis, Westminster and Columbia. The Wine in the Woods Festival held each May in Columbia, now in its seventh year, draws more than 14,000 people to Symphony Woods next to Merriweather Post Pavilion.

For locations and descriptions of these and other events, contact the Association of Maryland Winemakers 800-237-WINE or visit its Web site at www.marylandwine.com.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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