The man who talks to his grapes will walk and talk with you

FIORE FESTIVAL TIME

August 15, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

WHEN AND WHERE

The Third Annual Fiore Wine, Jazz and Art Festival will be held next Sunday at Fiore Winery, Route 136, Pylesville, in Harford County. For more information and directions to the winery call 410-893-1071.

At age 17, Mike Fiore swore he would never set foot in another vineyard -- he turned his back on the family-owned wineries and left Italy to start a new life in America.

But, he says, he just couldn't shake his passion for wine-making, it was in his genes, passed on by his ancestors who started producing wine in France and Italy in the 16th century.

Today, almost 32 years after arriving in the United States, Mr. Fiore is about to uncork what he considers one of his finest wines -- a Cabernet Sauvignon produced from grapes grown in his Pylesville vineyards.

Bottled only a few weeks ago, the red wine is not quite ready for the market.

"It's still in a state of shock from leaving the barrel," Mr. Fiore says.

But that doesn't keep him from sampling. He pours the deep red liquid, gently swirls the glass in his hand to release the bouquet and inhales the aroma. A smile illuminates his face as he nods in approval and takes a sip, slowly swishing every drop around his mouth.

The wine seems to have gripped his tongue and he tries to prolong savoring the flavor before finally swallowing. "Ahhh, the flavor reminds me of just a hint of vanilla and chocolate and black pepper," he says. "Give this wine time -- a few years -- and it will be superior."

The public won't be able to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon until its release in a few months, but seven of Mr. Fiore's other wines -- among them two medal winners -- will be available for tasting next Sunday at the Third Annual Fiore Wine, Jazz and Art Festival.

Scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. on the grounds of the Fiore Winery, the festival will feature wine tastings, winery tours, music by the Rhumba Club, artwork and handmade crafts.

variety of food will be offered, including snowballs and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Admission to the festival is $3. The purchase of a commemorative winery glass for $4 entitles the owner to sample five wines of his or her choice, including the Blush of Bel Air and such whites as the bronze-medalist Ravat, L'Ombra, Vidal Blanc and Seyval. Red wines available for tasting are the silver-medal winner Rosato and Chambourcin.

Though Mr. Fiore's wife, Rose, and son, Eric, are responsible for organizing the annual festival, the vintner leads tours of the winery and vineyards. And he'll readily share his knowledge and love for the business.

"Wine-making is more of a passion than a job -- I do this because I love it," says Mr. Fiore who tends to his vines during the day while working full-time at night maintaining one of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s power substations.

He says he doesn't just grow the grapes for his wines, h `D romances them. "I talk to the vines while I prune them, and I talk to the grapes while they are growing."

Gesturing toward his grapevines growing on 14 acres of Harford's hills, he says: "This county is the ideal location for vineyards because of the climate -- heat and lots of air."

He says his grapes flourish because they grow atop a valley 660 feet above the sea level, with a 100 percent south-east exposure. Growing conditions are enhanced because the vineyard is only 10 miles from the Chesapeake Bay and two miles from the Susquehanna River.

The land is protected by the two bodies of water, he says. The breeze off the water provides a constant air circulation which is needed to keep vine leaves dry and prevent fungus.

"It's like a trampoline effect," Mr. Fiore says. "Winds pick up the warmth from the water, throw it into the air and then drop it over the valley, protecting the vines from fungus

in the summer and damaging frosts in the winter."

And the land's shell rock soil provides good drainage for the root systems, he says. "You might not be able to grow corn in this rocky soil, but it's great for the grapes vines."

But wines grown in Maryland can change drastically because of changes in the weather, he says. The 1991 harvest was one of the best for state vintners, but a wet summer made the 1992 harvest average.

The 1993 harvest is expected to equal or surpass the one of two years ago. For vineyard owners, this summer's drought has been a blessing. The lack of rain keeps foliage under control and allows the sun to reach each vine, keeping the sugar content high and the acid well balanced, Mr. Fiore says.

While walking through his vineyards he gently picks up a heavy cluster of Chambourcin grapes and says proudly: "Just look at these beauties -- not even France can grow anything like this."

The drought also has quickened the growth of the grapes, says Mr. Fiore, who expects harvest to start early -- in about another week. That's when the around-the-clock work will begin for the vintner.

"I like to process my grapes immediately after the harvest -- I like to see them crushed within one hour of harvest."

Crushing, pressing, fermenting will be an unending task for the next few months. The Fiore family business produces about 5,000 gallons of wine annually, up from 1,000 when the winery opened in 1986.

But this year's expansion of the wine cellar will increase production capacity to 20,000 gallons.

The Fiore wine is gaining in popularity, says its producer. Some customers come from as far as New York to buy his wine.

The wines are sold in area liquor stores and are on the wine list of numerous restaurants, but most of the sales are made at festivals and from the winery, says Mrs. Fiore, who is in charge of the business end of the operation.

Mr. Fiore examines a cluster of Vidal grapes, the oldest vines on his land. "This is gorgeous, a dream come true," he says of the fruit's golden color. "It proves that an old vineyard makes the greatest wine, just like an old chicken makes the best soup.

"The best glass of wine is finished in the winery, but it is made right here in the vineyard."

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