Taking the mystery out of winemaking

The Baltimore Sun

William Kopajtic learned to make wine through trial and lots of error.

At first he crushed grapes with his hands, but the wine didn't turn out very good.

Then Kopajtic stood in a 20-gallon trash can and stomped grapes until the can tumbled over, spilling him - and several gallons of grape juice - onto the basement floor of his Jarrettsville home.

But Kopajtic persisted.

"I enjoy wine. ... I drink it with my meals. I was determined to learn to make wine," said Kopajtic, 53, a landscape architect. "After the trash can fell over, I gave up the tub-and-foot method and I purchased a grape presser."

Many amateur winemakers have endured mishaps during the learning process. But more and more, they have new resources at their disposal, as local winemaking professionals are offering their expertise to budding vintners.

Two such operations are in Harford County. Harford Vineyards in Forest Hill recently opened an amateur winemaking facility, and Fiore Winery in Pylesville holds events aimed at teaching the craft to home vintners.

Harford Vineyards will provide information on winemaking today at the Harford County Wine Festival, and at the 24th Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster next weekend, where Fiore also will be on hand.

The rise in wine education activities is due in part to the growing number of people who are making wine in their home, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.

"In the last couple years wine has become a lifestyle," Atticks said. "It's something more than just a substitute for beer. It's art, a conversation piece, a hobby, and there are a lot of tourism attractions out there that are wine-related."

Kevin Mooney of Harford Vineyard noticed similar trends.

"I've found out that there are many people out there who love to make wine, but they're intimidated by it," said Mooney, co-owner of the 20-acre vineyard in Forest Hill.

In late spring, Mooney, 49, teamed up with a California-based distributor and opened an amateur winemaking facility, he said. Mooney's four-phase program takes about 10 months to complete and costs $2,100 to $2,400. Participants also design a label for their creation.

Mooney said he teaches that a good wine is whatever the maker likes.

"People are always asking me what makes a good wine," he said. "I tell them that a good wine is whatever suits your palate."

Twenty-one years after he opened the Fiore Winery, co-owner Michael Fiore is fielding more calls than ever from amateur winemakers.

"I get calls from people daily asking me things like what kind of yeast they should use to make their wine," said Fiore, who operates the 15-acre vineyard in Pylesville with his wife, Rose. "But amateur winemakers most frequently have problems with the fermentation process. It's very difficult to ferment wine if you don't know anything about chemistry."

Constant inquiries notwithstanding, people making wine at home these days are better educated than ever, he said.

"There are a lot of 30- to 45-year-old people out there who are doing what the Italian immigrants did when they came to America," said Fiore, former owner of a vineyard in Italy who came to the United States more than 30 years ago.

Perhaps the only impediment to the spread of home winemaking is the lack of grapes in Maryland, Fiore said. Though the number of grapes being planted is on the rise, he predicts it will be a decade before the supply of available grapes meets demand.

"If you want good grapes you have to go to the Piedmont area, or go to Westminster or Mount Airy," Fiore said.

The schedule for next weekend's festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum includes discussions on wine tasting, grape selection and fermenting. An amateur winemaking competition also will be held, said Emily Johnson coordinator of the judging and education events. And some of the creations are quite unusual, she said.

"People use things you would never expect to be used to make wines. I've seen wines made of parsnip, corn cobs, violets, dandelions and tomatoes," Johnson said. "Although some of the ingredients seem odd, the quality of the amateur wines has improved."

Atticks recalled a wine called "Veggie Delight."

"This wine was basically a salad in a bottle," he said. "But it tasted great."

The sky is the limit when it comes to selecting ingredients for your wine, Kopajtic said.

"If you can make a good bottle of wine yourself, then you should do it," he said. "You get to choose ingredients that you like, no matter how odd they might seem. And economically it's wise."



The 2007 Harford County Wine Festival


Noon to 5 p.m. today


Rockfield Manor, 501 Churchville Road in Bel Air


The event will feature wines from around the world, food, pottery and a farmers' market with fresh produce, meats, cheeses and ice cream.


The jazz of Defractions will be showcased from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.


Tickets are $25 at the gate. Designated and nondrinker tickets are $10, and children 12 and younger are admitted free. Proceeds benefit the Rockfield Foundation, which sponsors the event.


No pets; no alcohol or coolers may be carried in.



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