Monday, August 11, 2008

At Mt. Felix, more to do than pace

Photo taken off the winery Web site, with a peek at the new label (far right).

Peter Ianello talked earlier this afternoon about the first grapes that he and his wife Mary planted back in 2005, just the beginning of the path that has led Mt. Felix Winery in Havre de Grace, Md., to the doorstep of opening for business. It’s a long process, he said, so contrary to the impatience that accompanies most endeavors in this country. Those folks couldn’t appreciate the satisfaction of “watching something develop.” He told the story of taking a picture of his 3-year-old son, one of the couple’s three children, when they started turning over the earth. “We were just talking about that a couple weeks ago, sitting with family, looking at the pictures. We’re saying, ‘wow, you’re 7 years old now.' "

He talked about the “five or six aspects of the project” that they are managing in these final couple of weeks before opening, everything from completing the patio that serve as the perch for wine tasters to absorb the expansive view that includes the Chesapeake Bay to getting the labels returned and placed on their models. It is, he said, like waiting through his wife’s pregnancy. "You’ve got that nine months of building toward [something], and then your life changes. Well,” continuing the metaphor, “the water’s definitely broken here and we’re experiencing contractions.”

Those labels will pay homage to one of the first masters of grapevines in this country,
John Adlum, who was born in York, Pa., and long after the Revolutionary War settled in Havre de Grace and along with his brother Joseph began experimenting with domestic grape production. That eventually would make him a confidante and friend of presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the subject of growing grapes and making wine.

Once the winery opens, they expect to be selling seven wines -- three reds and four whites – including chambourcin, what will amount to being their signature product. But let’s not get ahead of things. Based on several e-mails from Peter, here’s some history on the mansion and the wines to get you acquainted with the place before, well, we hear that wail of the infant:

Mount Felix overlooks the confluence of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. In 1840, these views so inspired the original builder he named the estate Mount Felix after the mountain in Greek Mythology where Gods would go to restore their spirits. The views are some of the most beautiful along the Eastern Seaboard. Mount Felix terroir is unique as the fertile soils are well drained as they were fractured from an ancient meteor.

Mount Felix Vineyard was established in 2005 while the boutique winery, and event center are just starting retail operations. Mount Felix is strategically located on the i95 corridor equidistant between Philadelphia and Washington DC. Mount Felix has impressive vistas that expand over 20 miles overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in growing Harford County, Maryland. Mount Felix offers unique blends from varietals grown on our estate as well our region. Mount Felix Vineyard: is a 3,000 vine high density planting of Chambourcin. The vineyard resides upon fertile well drained soils with southern exposed slopes facing the Chesapeake Bay. Chambourcin is a late-ripening grape that produces a highly rated red wine when the fruit fully matures. The large, moderately loose bunches set medium-sized blue berries. Wines from this grape are high in tannins.

The Villas at Mount Felix Manor: provide overnight accommodations in 2 separate wings of the mansion each with own kitchen.

Mount Felix is a venue for weddings, parties, dinners, and festivals.

Mount Felix Winery promotes the City of Havre de Grace's heritage. For example, the City was named by the great French General Lafayette. French wines of the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions are not promoted based upon a particular varietal (Cabernet, Merlots, etc). Rather, the great wines of these regions come from great chateau's (or estates) of these regions. Specifically, the "Bordeaux branding style" promotes the "chateau", "estate" or "house" where the grapes are grown and/or vinified into wine. Mount Felix estate winery is a "destination" for those seeking to enjoy a premier wine-agri-tourist experience. Each Mt. Felix wine serves to tell a very local story of important local historical people, places, or events.

Adlum's First: Named in honor of John Adlum, the first author on the subject of creating wine from American rootstock, Adlum was a Havre de Grace resident and friend of Thomas Jefferson. This wine is a dry full bodied red produced from our estate's Chambourcin blend vinified like a Cabernet with bold cherry fruit and spicy oak characters.

Lafayette's Reserve: Named in honor of Marquis de Lafeyette, the French Revolutionary War general who exclaimed C'est Le Havre!" thereby giving our city its name "Havre de Grace" because of its beauty. This wine utilizes the estate's Chambourcin vinified to produce a dry medium-blend with a spice like a Pinot Noir but with cherry flavors complementing many dishes including pan-fried quail, venison, and cheeses.

O'Neill's Bravado: Named in honor of John O'Neill, a local famous war of 1812 hero that defended the city against the British. O'Neill is a sweet red wine with violet aromas, firm tannins and excellent blending qualities that will add enjoyment to lamb dishes, steaks and other flavorful foods.

Matilda's Devotion: Named in honor of John O'Neill's daughter, Matilda saved her father from the Brittish hang man's noose. This is a dry full-bodied white wine similar to chardonnay with crisp acids and pear and apple fruit flavors that go well with chicken, veggies and fresh baked bread.

C'est Le Havre: Named in honor of the city, a slightly sweet (off-dry) white wine with some spiciness, honey and mineral notes, rich tropical fruit that is best paired with grilled bratwurst, German dishes, oriental dishes and spicy foods.

Mitchell's Manor: Named in honor of the 19th century agriculturist and Mount Felix builder. More to come later.

Cornelia's Blush: Named in honor of Mount Felix resident and famed children's authoress of her time, Cornelia's Blush is a semi-sweet blush with and a crisp backbone to balance the sugar, making it perfect as an aperitif or after dinner sipper.

Luna di Miele: a honey mead. Mead is man's oldest fermented drink. Traditionally, the word "honeymoon" derives from drinking "honey wine" for one lunar cycle after wedlock.

Italy going to the boxed punch

I hadn't found the time the past few days to post this story from The New York Times about Italy's recent decision to permit some of its fine wines to be sold in boxes. The responses are as entertaining as the story is enlightening.

Call the Zafferano Va La's spice of life

There’s a long list of foods associated with the region of Abruzzo in central Italy, situated between the Adriatic Sea to the east and to just beyond the farthest reach of Rome (about 50 miles) at its closest point to the west. One of those is Zafferano, better known as the spice saffron. It’s the name that winemaker and owner Anthony Vietri and his family adopted for one of the wines at Va La in Avon Grove, Pa.

That will be one of the wines to be bottled at the Chester County winery in the next couple weeks. No surprise it won’t last long; the winery’s Web site says about 600 bottles are filled. As Vietri said recently, “It goes really quickly because we have a loyal client base on that particular wine. Usually we have a signup list for it and people come in and get it.”

Zafferano, he said, is 100 percent
pinot grigio wrung out of what he admitted are low-yielding vines in his vineyard.

“I’ve gotten very close in the past to ripping out the pinot grigio because it’s very difficult to farm,” he said, “but I’ve just had to throw up my hands as far as what fruit consistently comes off those vines. I’ve just had to accept the fact that, you know, it really does well there despite what I think. So it has saved its skin, so to speak, and we’ve just learned to live with each other. We make this little batch of it every year and it’s an interesting wine. I think it’s quite different than most pinot grigios than you taste out there, and I really don’t know the style that we [should] call it. We call it pinot grigio because it doesn’t go in oak. However, it’s somewhere between the gris style and the grigio style.”

The juice is essentially cold fermented, then bottled and served. A sip, according to Va La’s Web site, yields some hints of butterscotch and crème brulee notes. I’ve not tried it yet, although there are elements of two whites I’ve certainly tasted: pinot grigeo and
vihno verde.

“Ours is a bit bigger than most vihno verdes,” Vietri explained, “which you know are on the lean side purposely. That’s a good example of a wine that has good acidity for fatty foods; that’s the point of that wine, that’s a great example, as a matter of fact. Ours is actually more round and fat; higher alcohol; it’s even got a bit of structure to it. It’s gold in color. They’re very ripe grapes that come off that site.”