Friday, November 15, 2013

Top 10 Reasons the Winter is the best time of year to visit wineries and vineyards!

Ok, yes we all love visiting the vineyards in Summer and Fall. After all, when you visit a vineyard you expect to see clusters of grapes dangling from rows of vines right? Yet the winter and early spring months are the absolute best time to go vineyard hopping! Here are my personal top 10 reasons to dawn a heavy jacket and hit the wineries:

  1. The fall harvest is over, things have wound down and the staff have more time to showcase their wine making process, provide tours and provide you with more in-depth information about the wines they make.
  2. The “Wine Trail Tourist Crowd” has dwindled down. Enjoy no lines, no long waits, and sip at your leisure.
  3. Your wine tasting experience will more than likely be more personal, comfortable.
  4. You will be more likely to meet the actual owners and winemakers themselves instead of less knowledgeable staff or volunteers.
  5. Local lodging is more likely to be offered at reduced rates during the winter and early spring months.
  6. Winery events are more likely to be less hectic and provide a more intimate atmosphere.
  7. No bugs! Fruit flies and mosquitoes don't care for the chilly weather.
  8. Not only can you taste all the regular wine offerings, but many wineries have special hot wines / winter blends... whether you call it Gluehwein, Mulled Wine, Wassail, or Vin Chaud.. it's ALL great for sipping from a hot steaming mug by a winter fire.
  9. Gift time! Bottles of wine make GREAT gifts for the holidays! (Hint, Hint, my friends and family)
  10. You are supporting your local vineyards through their leanest of seasons!
So this winter, bundle up and visit the wineries in your region and enjoy all the benefits without all the hassles!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Allegro Vineyards & Winery: The Nouveau release!

On 8 November 2013, Allegro Vineyards & Winery celebrated the release of it's 2013 Nouveau, a wonderfully luscious and fruity Beaujolais style red wine. A little more than an hours drive from Baltimore, this unpretentious winery in Brouge, PA has delivered an exceptionally drinkable wine for those of us who love Beaujolias. The release party was an exceptional value at just $20 a head and included a tasting consisting of seven wines of your choosing from their considerably large selection, dinner (no not small tastings, you have to come hungry to this one) and 10% discount on any bottles you purchase, even if it was less than a case. The dinner included a vegetable curry soup, pumpkin lasagna, sausages and peppers, bread with sweet and herbed whipped butters and an assortment of desserts. They set up tables in the rooms surrounded by wine barrels and steel vats, so there was no mistaking you were dining in the heart of the winery.

My personal tasting selection was a straight run of dry reds.. starting with the star of the party, the Nouveau.. and I found myself torn between wanting to tell everyone about this wonderful gem.. and also hoping that it stays a best kept regional secret. This wine will undoubtedly win some awards. Luckily for me, they aren't shipping out of state yet, so I will hopefully have a few more times to stock up before they are sold out (hopefully). I also partook in tastings of the Claret, Chambourcin, Syrah-Chambourcin, Merlot-Chambourcin, the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  I personally think the Merlot and the Cab Sav are both great for drinking now but will get even better with some cellar time. My favorites for this trip however were the Syrah-Chambourcin, the Claret, and the Nouveau. 

Seating at these special events are very limited.. which is a great thing if large crowds aren't in your list of desirable elements for ambiance. This event had the feel of a private party, very relaxed, and it was easy to mingle with such a small group. But please note, if you live outside of Pennsylvania and would like to attend one of the many special events at this winery, you will find that they cannot sell anything online to an out of state address. Simply call the winery and they will hold a reservation for you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Crossing the Potomac: A sampling of vineyards in the Potomac Cluster

Pulling up to White's Ferry
About an hour's drive from the Baltimore area you can cross the Potomac river on Maryland's last operational line pulled Ferry - White's Ferry. I learned of the ferry by word of mouth and decided to make a day trip of it. Once you get out onto the country roads it becomes a very scenic drive along Maryland's farmlands boasting pastoral views. Be sure to stop at one of the numerous farmer's markets along the way to pick up fresh fruit or local cheeses. We had already packed a picnic lunch to eat at one of the vineyards but decided to stop anyway to check out the offerings, and left with a bag of fresh green tomatoes (which by the way we are frying up today). Once we arrived at White's Ferry, I found the entire process very simple.. simply pull up and wait just a few minutes for the ferry to return and board. They currently charge $5.00 one way or $8.00 for a round trip ticket.
The view from the ferry

Crossing the Potomac helps build up the anticipation. You might as well be crossing the Rhine, for there are plenty of vineyards waiting for your enjoyment just across the waters.

Our first stop on the Virginia side was at Fabbioli Cellars. If you are used to paying $5.00 to $10.00 per person for the wine samples, which normally include a glass with the vineyard's logo, prepare yourself for a bit of a price increase. The basic tasting which includes a bite sized niblet of cheese, cracker, chip or chocolate per wine starts at $15.00 per person.. and to keep the logo tasting glass they will charge you an additional $5.00. So count on at least $20 per person. The wines themselves are also a bit pricier than comparable wines in the VA/PA/MD areas. With that said, we found some very good wines in their selection and my personal favorite were their ports and the pear wine. The darker reds were fantastic, of which the Tannat had the most full bodied and well rounded flavors - but I wasn't willing to part with $45 per bottle when I can find comparable wines at other vineyards for less than half the price. On the plus side, the gentleman overseeing our tasting was very knowledgeable and took his time with us. We had his full attention as he was focused on just our small group.. whereas my experience at some other vineyards were a bit more hectic and felt a bit more rushed.

Just a few minutes up the road from Fabbioli Cellars you will find the Lost Creek Vineyards and Winery. You will have to drive about 1.5 miles up an unpaved trail of gravel and stone, hitting a few bumps and holes along the way.. but it should be no problem for most vehicles. As we passed the Lost Creek Vineyard sign, I noticed another sign for Hidden Brook Winery. Although we didn't visit Hidden Brook Winery on this trip.. I heard from other visitors that their wines tend to lean more on the sweet side, which is not something I personally care for, but if you don't mind sweeter wines you might as well visit this one as well since they are so close together.
Lost Creek was our hidden Gem of the day
Lost Creek was probably my personal favorite of the three vineyards we visited that day. The tasting room was beautiful, and we liked almost every wine we tasted. The tasting fee at this winery is $10, on the upper end of what I am used to paying to sample potential purchases, and again that price did not include a logo glass. I still have not developed a taste for most whites. When it comes to white wine I really prefer something smooth and light, like a refreshing Riesling, or a slightly spicy Gewurtztraminer. So keep in mind I am not a white wine person when I say the whites were just "ok". Lost Creek offers a variet of Chardonnay style wines and a Vidal Blanc. But the reds were the best that I've had out of the vineyards we visited that day.

The Patio at Lost Creek
Virginia has this love affair with Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc... but in the experience of my limited palette, I find the flavors to be all over the map.. one winery will have a Cab Franc that has a grassy tinge to the flavor and another one right next door will have one that smooth, full flavored, well rounded and hold up it's own against even some California wines. With the exception of the Merlot, which I found to be a tad metallic in flavor, the Lost Creek reds blew me away - I was truly caught off guard and had to ask myself "is this really Virginia wine?" - The Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and their special blend "Genesis" were all great for drinking now or storing away in your cellar.. but the one that left the biggest impression with me was the Reserve.. the deep, complex plum flavors went down so smoothly, and I immediately imagined having this wine with a dinner of grilled meats or pasta. The prices here run you from $20 to $30 per bottle for the reds, and while I think it's a bit steep.. I can see these as a good investment for a special treat with friends or a dinner with your significant other. I couldn't leave without a bottle of the reserve and look forward to the day I open it with my wife.
My wife and son at Lost Creek
There are so many vineyards in wine region known as the Potomac Cluster, but one should only do so many tastings in a day. So we decided our third and last visit for the day would be at the Tarara Winery. What a way to end out the day.. one final tasting followed by unpacking a picnic lunch at a table on the wineries deck. The Tarara winery is huge.. as you drive onto the property you pass several side roads leading to other buildings for wine production, a concert area, event grounds, etc. There is a main parking lot and a bit of a walk uphill to some wooden stairs that take you further up tree covered hillside and the building housing the tasting room with a deck overlooking the woods and vineyards. This winery felt more "commercial" - which from the sheer size of the grounds and vineyards I would suspect they produce wine in larger quantities than some of the surrounding wineries.
Barrels near the parking lot at Tarara Winery

Again, the basic tasting fee was $10 per person, no glass. You sample seven wines.. and the tasting room was very busy during our visit. We felt a bit rushed as there was one person pouring for three goups of people. So what information you could get about the wine was fairly limited. The winery does offer a more intimate one and a half hour premier tasting along with samples of cheese with the wines. The price for the premier tasting was $20 at the time of our visit. I found most of the wines enjoyable but nothing stood out for me as a must have bottle. I think our favorite was their blush, the Rose - it was very light and refreshing, but wasn't chilled well enough which brought out more herbal characteristics than I wanted.. but I could tell that when well chilled this would be a great wine to sip our back this summer. And at only $10 per bottle I thought it was a great value as well.  This vineyard appears to be very popular in the area, and swarms of people kept pouring in. In fact, after the tasting we were just lucky enough to grab one of the last tables available out on the deck. If you are planning on visiting Tarara.. I suggest coming around 11am or very early in the afternoon to ensure you get a less hurried tasting and can enjoy the grounds without he crowds.
So, we've now discovered yet another great area to explore.. within a relatively short driving distance from Baltimore/DC Metro area. As much as I love these little day trips - it's even better later when you pop open a bottle from a trip whether it's a few weeks/days or years later.. and you look down at the label and it brings back these memories.. and then as you take your first sip.. those memories come back even stronger, in full force. This is SO much better than simply going to the local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine! I hope you take advantage of some of these local wineries, get out and enjoy the sights, and build your own memories that you can savor later! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard: First Visit

Another new winery.. The Cacoctin Breeze Vineyard, construction on one of the hillsides is where the new in-ground cellar will be, with a building on top to house a large tasting room.

When you first pull into the parking lot of the Catoctin Breeze Vineyard.. you can immediately see this is a fairly new vineyard. The fresh gravel in the driveway, the construction equipment parked on the side of the vineyard.. I was expecting to maybe see only 3 or 4 wines. Surprisingly, there was a very nice selection.. with three different lists for wine tastings including 3 different meades (honey wine).

The current tasting room was located in a newly constructed red barn shaped building co-located with some wine making equipment and barrels. The owner had a display up showing drawings of the new underground cellar under construction.. to be build inside the hill of the vineyard. On top of the cellar, they have planned a large building to be the new tasting room. We had a hard time choosing which tasting menu to pick.. I picked one which included local cheeses. Each of the tastings include a meade. The owner let us try all three meades and I was surprised by how much they tasted like sweet white wines. Just outside the tasting room there is a covered area with tables and chairs. We had a packed a picnic with us so we took advantage of the back patio.

 The wines were very good. We bought a chilled bottle of Chardonnay to have with our lunch (I believe it had won a gold medal). I can't wait to see the new tasting room and cellar once it is completed. The owner, Voytek Fizyta, indicated it should be ready for a grand opening early 2014.

Visit their website:

Note: While we were enjoying our Chardonnay and picnic lunch on the back patio, a bus of visitors pulled in from the Anne Arundale Community College and sat at the tables next to us. It was an educational trip to visit with the owner, who came out and provided a very detailed speech about the vineyard and his approach to wine making as well as many of the challenges he faced and lessons learned. After his speech he took the students for a walk up into the vineyards. This only made the trip that much more enjoyable!

Red Heifer

Red Heifer Vineyard and Winery: Our First Visit

About an hour's drive from the Baltimore Metro area.. you cross the paths of several Wine Trail regions in Maryland. This time we plotted a course to visit three vineyards in the vehicle nav.. the first was the Red Heifer Vineyard on the outskirts of Smithsburg and about a mile away from the Appalachian Trail. Just my opinion here.. take an SUV.. the road up to the vineyard turns into an unpaved path up a fairly steep trail with a few bumps to test your shocks. The vineyard is new with only a few wines in production but they were all of good quality. They are starting out with 20 acres.. of which it appears that 3 or 4 acres are in production. The prices ranged from $14 to $22 a bottle. I loved the Red Heifer Red.. it was easy drinking, surprisingly low in tannin, and well balanced. The taste reminded me of a red wine called "Joy" from Crosskeys Vineyard in Virginia. It is a very approachable dry red for those who shy away from the big bold reds. My wife really enjoyed the Vidal Blanc (as did I) so we couldn't leave without a bottle. Please support this new vineyard by visiting and tasting their wines. Although there are only a few different wines, there is something for everyone ranging from a nice dry red / semi-sweet whites to the very sweet. They are also on facebook so you can check out their events and photos.. (

The tasting lineup when we visited: Red Heifer Red, Vidal Blanc, Red Heifer White, Blueberry Wine, Catawba, and the "Sweet Heifer"
The drive was scenic, and the view from the Winery patio was beautiful. This is one of those wineries that could be a great stop to picnic and enjoy a bottle of wine with your food while looking out at the vineyard and the hills. From the Red Heifer, we left the Antietam Wine trail and ventured out to the Thurmont area to swing by another vineyard, the Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and Winery.. which will bring me to my next post!
A tri-vineyard quick trip along the Antietam Highlands, Frederick and Caroll Maryland Wine Trails

Friday, June 28, 2013

Where's the Dornfelder??

Adding Otium Cellars to my list of wineries to visit ( It appears this vineyard makes a Dornfelder wine.. one that I've had great difficulty finding since coming back to CONUS. On the rare occasion that I do find a Dornfelder in the wine store.. I've been dissapointed with the quality. Is it me or is Germany not exporting any of it's decent Dorn? The best I had was one I picked up at a Weingut just outside of Stuttgart - unfiltered, wish I could remember the name of it. But everything I've had back here in the states just can't compare. I'm putting high hopes on Otium Cellars and will definitely post my thoughts once I visit.

If anyone runs into another vineyard producing Dornfelder.. drop me a note!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A couple stops on the Piedmont Wine trail

Still updating my map on google mapsengine.. check it out here:

Today we hit a couple more vineyards along Maryland's Piedmont Wine Trail.. and I'm still kicking myself for forgetting to take pics of the vineyards and tasting rooms.

The first one was Legends Vineyard & Winery and I think it's become our new favorites.. for the wines, not the grounds. By far the most important thing is that you like the wine.. the grounds just add to the appeal, especially if there is a nice area to retreat and share a bottle of your favorite over a packed picnic lunch. Legends Vineyard is unassuming.. you wont find a luxurious estate, stone houses or professionally maintained gardens and grounds. What you will find are some pretty spectacular wines that have won many medals. And as their website claims, you will find wines for just about any taste. I prefer the bold reds, my wife has lately been leaning towards the semi-sweet wines.. the prices were reasonable and we liked so many of the wines that we left with a full mixed case. Carrie, the owner was very personable and gracious. She gave us some tips on home made sangria and when we told her about how we like to marinate local fruits in ceramic casks of rum she invited us to come back and pick raspberries from her fields once they are ripe. On I rated Legends 4 out of 5 wine glasses. They would do well to build onto the vineyard, perhaps set up a picnic area where visitors can sit out and look at the vineyards while enjoying their favorite bottle.

From there we drove up to Mount Felix Estate Vineyard & Winery, in which had a more historical old time estate look and feel with a gorgeous view out back overlooking the vinyards and the Chesapeake Bay off in the distance. I thought the wines were a bit overpriced, but after we finished our wine tasting, we snatched up a bottle of chilled Riesling and made a picnic on their back patio with the owner's dog Zoey (spelling?). 
Zoey relaxing as we unpacked a lunch

A peaceful serene view while enjoying our chilled Riesling

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Maryland Wine

Maryland Wine: So well over 10 years ago.. I tried a few MD wines.. red wines... I think one was from Boordy Vineyards. I was not overly impressed. They were ok. Nothing great, and the wines in my opinion were overpriced.  MAN Times have changed! The quality is so much better now, and there seems to be an explosion in the number of vineyards popping up. Check out we don't have anywhere near as many vineyards as Virginia (They reportedly have over 200).. but there are probably over 50 now.. and the quality of some of the wines in the region (MD/VA/PA) are really starting to shine.

The vineyard at Woodhall Wine Cellars
A short drive out to the vineyards is a nice escape, so make a day-trip of it and support your local MD vineyards and wineries. I have my MD Wine Passport now.. have 6 vineyards checked off and can't wait to visit more!