Vintners preserve state's wine history

A couple produces a new wine from a historical farm in Havre de Grace.

April 17, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Almost 200 years ago, John Adlum is said to have cultivated Maryland's first successful commercial vineyard at his home, Swan Harbor Farm.

In an attempt to revitalize the history of Adlum's vineyard, Michael and Rose Fiore planted grapes at the exact location of Adlum's crop. Recently, the married couple bottled the wine made from the first grapes harvested from the site.

The story began decades ago in Italy, where Michael starting working in the family winery as an 11-year-old. When he came to America and before he met his wife, he had no intention of doing anything with wine. But Rose had other ideas. She wanted a vineyard.

Michael believed that wine was an important part of a healthy diet and saw it as a necessity. Rose used his love of wine to convince him, and in 1981, six years after coming to Maryland, her dream was realized when Michael planted a vineyard, which they turned into Fiore Winery in 1986.

It took Rose more than a decade to convince her husband to plant the Swan Harbor crop.

According to Michael, a second vineyard was the last thing on his mind.

Michael found the romance of wine early in life. When the Italian government started buying land for olive oil production he decided to leave Italy and winemaking. But his love for wine prevailed.

"I loved winemaking when I worked with my grandfather," Michael said. "When I was 17, I was recognized as the youngest cellar master [sommelier] in Italy. I loved the business, and wine was fun for me. When the government started buying up the land, I left it all behind me. I didn't care if I ever saw a winery again. I just got tired of it all."

Preserving history

Rose didn't give up on her dreams. She had her vineyard and winery, and she wanted to help preserve the history of the winemaking industry in Maryland.

She told people the significance of winemaking from a historical perspective. No one believed the area was a grape-growing area in the early days of the state.

She set out to prove them wrong.

She was drawn to Adlum's vineyard because of the history of his friendship with Thomas Jefferson, a friendship that began with Adlum's wine.

According to James Gabler, author of Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson met Adlum after receiving wine from his vineyard.

A portion of a letter from Jefferson to Adlum referring to a fox grape is included in the book.

The fox grape got its name from its rank taste when ripe, resembling the smell of a fox.

The fox grape didn't do well, but another grape called the Alexander prevailed.

According to Gabler, Jefferson eventually suggested to Adlum, "it will be well to push the culture of that grape [Alexander] without losing time at a search of foreign vines, which it will take centuries to adapt to our soil and climate."

Second vineyard

After years of studying the history of the industry in the area, the Fiores decided maybe a vineyard on the land would work.

In 1998, the Fiores started talking about renting the land at Swan Harbor Farm.

"Harford County was trying to amplify the history of the place," Rose said. "We were working on economic development in Bel Air, and they wanted the vineyard project. We started the vineyard with John and Cecilia League as our partners."

According to Craig Lanphear, park administrator at Swan Harbor, there were two reasons for planting the vineyard.

"It was part of the master plan for the property," Lanphear said. "We wanted to attempt to bring back the history of the first vineyard ever in Harford County. Secondly, the Fiores were interested in starting a vineyard on property close to the water, and they know grape-growing, and we thought the vineyard would be a beautiful asset."

The Fiores planted Vidal 256 grapes, (an Italian white Chiati grape) on 10 acres at Swan Harbor Farm.

"The Vidal 256 grape has a tropical fruit flavor," Michael said. "It has a citric background on the finish. We used the grapes to make a Vidal blanc and a L'Ombra."

Michael said the L'Ombra has always been a favorite of his because of early childhood memories.

"In Italian, ombra means shade," Michael said. "I would go around with my brother and say, `Let's go get some ombra.' People would think we meant the wine."

The remainder of the grapes are being used in Blush of Bel Air, a wine the Fiores created as a tribute to Bel Air.

"The joke is that the Blush of Bel Air is made from grapes from Havre de Grace," Michael said.

Future plans

Last year after the first harvest, the Fiores decided that cultivating two vineyards was too much to handle, and they sold their share of the vineyard back to the Leagues, but they hope to continue to get the grapes.

"I serve as their consultant, and I will continue to do that as long as I get the grapes," Michael said. "I just didn't have the time to work on that vineyard and my own. I'm building an addition to my current winery that will look like an Italian villa when completed. I have 14 acres of grapes here that [we] cultivate, and it takes a lot of work. We are going to concentrate on it for now."

Rose isn't stopping there. She's trying to get vine cuttings from Monticello to place in the Swan Harbor vineyard. She hasn't done it yet, but she can wait - she's done it before.

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