Surrounded by lush green vines laden with clusters of grapes ripening in a Harford County vineyard, officials and vintners announced the creation of the Piedmont Wine Trail as Maryland's fourth pathway to fine wines.
The trail meanders through scenic areas of northern Baltimore and Harford counties and, if experience from the popularity of other trail ventures proves true, could bring thousands of visitors annually to the eight sites, officials said.
The trail will allow vintners to show off their vineyards, offer tastes and give guests insight into the intricacies of winemaking. Fiore Winery and Distillery in Pylesville provided a picturesque backdrop for the launch event Wednesday.
"We want to bring people around and make them stay with us," said Mike Fiore, who brought a winemaking tradition from his native Italy to Harford County nearly 30 years ago. "Maybe, they will spend a little money."
Or, maybe, a lot of money. Maryland's wine industry, which numbers 38 wineries and is growing at about 20 percent a year, generates about $40 million in economic development annually, while drawing nearly 600,000 visitors, officials said. Wineries account for about 350 jobs, generating about $11 million in salaries, and contributing more than $3 million in state and local tax revenues.
"Our wineries play a huge part in how we market our state," said Margot Ameilia, state tourism director. "The trails are a great partnership with our agriculture and give people a chance to add good wine to authentic local cuisine."
The Chesapeake Wine Trail on the Eastern Shore, the Patuxent Trail through Calvert and St. Mary's counties and the Frederick Wine Trail have brought many visitors and much business to their areas, Amelia said.
The Piedmont region matches history with stunning views of the Chesapeake Bay as well as Maryland's rivers, rolling hills and farms, making it an ideal destination, said Kevin M. Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
"We want people to come here, taste here and get a sense of place here," Atticks said. Fiore, which bills itself as "the road to red wine," sells about 40,000 gallons of wine annually and has welcomed as many as 100 families a weekend. The winery served the nearly 100 guests at the launch a taste of its signature Chambourcin vintage.
In addition to Fiore, the trail includes Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, which is about to celebrate its 65th anniversary as one of the oldest wineries in the state, and several of the newest ventures into the industry. Harford Vineyard, which opened its winery in May in Forest Hill, hopes to benefit from its location between Fiore and Boordy, said its sales manager, Roxanne Mooney.
"We are really excited about the Piedmont Trail," she said. "We really want people to walk through and interact with us."
All eight stops - four in each county - are within easy access of major highways and near charming communities that offer dining with local fare, delightful shops and the hospitality of country inns.
David R. Craig, Harford's county executive, said the two counties have successfully participated in a Buy Local campaign to encourage consumers to purchase produce, meats and fruits from area farmers and have now joined in a "drink local" effort.
Grape production in the two counties is increasing, with several new wineries in the works. Billy Boniface, president of the Harford County Council, added two acres of grape arbors to his family's Bonita Farms this year and is taking winemaking lessons from Fiore, his neighbor.
"Farmers have to diversify their products," Boniface said.
The popularity of Maryland wines is also growing. The 26th annual Maryland Wine Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster this weekend is expected to draw about 25,000 visitors, who will sample vintages from 30 area wineries.
Hotels throughout the county have been booked for months in advance of the two-day festival, said Jackie Koch, marketing coordinator at the farm museum.
"Maryland wines are really coming into their own," Koch said. "We have a great topography for grapes and can produce so many different kinds of wines. People are coming from all over to take a taste."