Fiore Winery celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016 and during these past 30 years the business has evolved from a part-time passion to one of Maryland’s premiere wineries. And more recently, in the spirit of continual growth and evolution, a distillery was co-located on the winery grounds greatly expanding the portfolio of adult beverages offered by Fiore. Owned and operated by the Fiore family, the business extends through three generations of family members indoctrinated at an early age.
While the legacy of the Fiore family can be traced back centuries, the more recent history has its origins in Calabria, Italy, the birth place of Mike and Rose Fiore. Mike, originally from the town of Sambiase, and Rose from neighboring Nicastro, never met in Italy but instead serendipitously met in Boston, MA when Mike was on a weekend trip with some friends. Three months later they were married and within two years they had two sons, Eric and Anthony, named after Mike’s father and older brother. Mike had all of the fun he could stand in the Boston area and decided to move the family to Baltimore, MD where he originally lived after immigrating from Italy in 1962. The Fiore family lived in a section of north-east Baltimore called Gardenville until they purchased a 14 acre parcel of land in northern Harford County, MD. Motivated by a book that Rose picked up in the public library called “One Acre and Security” by Bradford Angier, in 1977 the family moved to Pylesville and established a small family farm with horses, cows, pigs, goats, rabbits and a huge garden. The family continued to live the good life until 1981 when tragedy struck. The youngest son Anthony died suddenly from a rare medical condition while at his high school soccer practice. Struck with grief and other bad luck that seemed to pile on, the family abandoned it’s aspirations to maintain the small farm. Still grieving and with nothing but time on his hands Mike decided to plant 50 grape vines to make a little wine. The 50 vines quickly turned into 100 and then 150 vines which grew very well on the mineral rich soil. With the farm largely dormant, the decision was made to dedicate a 2-acre parcel for growing grapes commercially.
The family joined the Maryland Grape Growers Association and visited many of the vineyards in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania that were around at the time. Mike was quickly enamored with how successful local growers were with French Hybrids. Accordingly, the decision was made to plant 2-acres (about 2000 vines) of the white French hybrid grape Vidal-256 on the section of the property with the highest elevation facing south east. Never having planted a vineyard before, it turned into quite a challenging undertaking and family members were rushed in for support. One of the most notable was Roses’s father Antonio Mastroianni who didn’t understand the concept of an eight-hour day. Working from dawn until dusk, the family dug holes, planted vines, installed posts and ran wire for the trellis system. While conceptually this doesn’t sound challenging, imagine digging 1000’s of holes and hitting rock on nearly every one of them. To this very day, if you walk through the vineyard late at night, when the air is still and there is no background noise, you can still hear the residual echoes of Mastroianni cursing in Italian with every swing of the pick. During the course of our toils, in what turned out to be a prophetic moment, Mastroianni removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow, looked around, and with the sun on his face and the wind blowing through his hair he reached down and scooped up two handfuls of the shale laden soil and declared that this was the perfect terror for growing grapes.
With all the vines planted and trellised, the last order of business was a name for the vineyard. Nostalgia quickly ruled the day and Mike declared that the vineyard be named “La Felicetta” [loosely translated to ‘the happy little place’] after the family farm back in Italy. While Mike was very proud of what he had started and liked to boast of this accomplishment, given the enormity of the original family estate back in Calabria, Mike’s mother Concetta, still clinging to the last vestiges of her past aristocratic life, quipped ‘questo e no Felicetta’. Nevertheless, Mike, Rose and their son Eric continued to cultivate the vineyard for 4 years until the vines were sufficiently mature to produce quality grapes.
With the original 150 vines being used to make the family wine and the vineyard on the cusp of full production, it was time to line up customers [MD wineries] for the grapes. Well as the saying goes, a lot can change in 4 years and as it turned out we were not the only ones rushing to plant Vidal. Suddenly, there was a glut of Vidal and with only a dozen Maryland wineries at the time, there wasn’t much demand and consequently, the values were depressed. So, one night at the dinner table, without much thought regarding what we were getting ourselves into (at the time we simply didn’t know), we agreed to go “all in” and open our own winery. We knew couldn’t keep making wine in the garage, so the first order of business was to reduce the barn that we used to house our animals in to its foundation and block walls. We then built a new structure on top of it adding additional area for a tasting room and bottling. Then, being a modest blue-collar family, we were all to familiar with the concept of DIY, long before DIY was a thing, and that included preparing all of the federal, state and local legal paper work required to open a farm winery. To this very day, if you ask Rose if she knew then what she knows today, would she have so easily made the decision to open a winery that night at the dinner table – perhaps when it comes to being an entrepreneur, being a little oblivious is not such a bad thing.
After many trials and tribulations, in 1986 we became Maryland’s 12th bonded winery opening for business with an initial production of 1500 gallons of wine. The wine consisted of 3 brands; 2 non-varietal wines called, Vino Bianco and Vino Rosso (White Wine and Red Wine) and one varietal wine called Dutchess made from some of the original 150 vines. All three were acidic and bone dry, but interestingly enough, there was (and still is today) a market for folks that like, you guessed it, acidic bone-dry wines. As wine sales increased so did our estate grown grapes with an expansion of the vineyard to include the varietals Chanclor and Chambourcin. The Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and The Blush of Bel Air brands followed soon after incorporating a new label design with elements still in use today.
Back them all of the work was performed by hand. Fermentation was performed in old used dairy tanks, which actually worked quite well. Storage was a never ending quest to find the right size container to minimize air contact. Filtering was performed with a small table top cartridge filter. And bottling was performed with a small table-top four-spout gravity filler. A hand corker was used to insert the cork and a rigid plastic cap was pushed on over the top of the bottle. Labels had glue applied with a small dispenser and every label was applied by hand with the excess glue getting wiped off with a damp cloth. The entire process was horrifically slow and painful. More to follow …