Perched on a hill overlooking northern Baltimore County's scenic valleys, Royal Rabbit Vineyards typically provides guests pleasing views throughout the year. It isn't until late spring and summer, however, that the landscape begins to change: heavy green and purple orbs crop up along 4 acres of climbing grapevines. By fall, the heavy, ripened grapes are ready for harvest—later on they’ll be turned into the winery’s award-winning wines or used as low-impact marbles. The small winery lies along the Piedmont Wine Trail and Mason-Dixie Wine Trail, which connects more than 20 small, family-owned wineries in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
In keeping with the Royal Rabbit Vineyards motto—"Treat yourself royally"—many of the wines have royal titles, including a cabernet franc blend dubbed “the duke.” Wine labels display a kingly rabbit holding a golden chalice.
For Denise and John Wilkerson, owning a vineyard had always been a shared dream, but not one they thought would ever be realized. Wandering through the French regions of Dijon and Bordeaux on their honeymoon, the two sampled myriad wines and mustards, refining their palates and developing an appreciation for wine-dipped mustard sandwiches. Back in the states, the two tried their hand at cattle farming before making a dramatic decision: they'd sell the cattle, work on beautifying their 20 acres of land, and find a sunny patch of earth to plant those first few rows of wine grapes.
Today, the two curate tastings of their award-winning wines in a renovated barn, where barrels have been re-purposed into tables, and grapes have been re-purposed as alcohol. Through open doors, the rustic tasting room looks out over the Wilkersons' 20 acres, which are populated by rows of grapes and the lush undergrowth of native plants.
Blue Mountain Vineyards owners, Joe and Vickie, are pinot pioneers. Beginning with a 5-acre experiment in 1986, they discovered that the soil of the Lehigh Valley does a fine impression of French terrain, making it suitable for growing the grapes of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and other European varietals. Since then, they've expanded to a 50-acre plot, where they now produce wines that have won awards from the Fingerlake International Wine Competition and Appellation America.
Panoramic views of the Blue Mountains overlook scenic terraces at the vineyards, where grapes spring from soil that soldiers roamed during the Revolutionary War. Tastings, concerts, and other events fill the winery's glass-flanked deck, spilling onto an outdoor patio surrounded by ponds as tranquil as a silent lullaby. Visitors admire the vines during tours, and they can also adopt their favorites to preserve the vines' flavorful histories.
It took only a year for the team behind The Vineyard at Hershey to go from hatching their idea at a piano bar to purchasing 40 acres of farmland in 2009. Handcrafted by resident winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti II, the winery’s selection ranges from a subtle hint of strawberry in the Twisted Kiss red-and-white blend to darker notes of plum and spice in the Firefly, a stalwart red. Bartenders pour samples for visitors to savor inside the vineyard’s farmhouse tasting room, beside its 2-acre spring pond, or on a deck overlooking the hills of Dauphin County. Said deck is home to the winery’s summertime concert series, one of numerous events it hosts alongside year-round tastings and vineyard tours.
Armed with 20 years of experience, the brewmasters at Mr. Steve's Homebrew and Wine Supplies help amateur boozesmiths notch the proper equipment and wisdom to craft homemade beer and wine. Bring beer dreams to foamy fruition with the Brewer Best kit (a $75 value), which includes the containers, tubes, and other necessary gewgaws, but excludes bottles and patience. A variety of ingredient kits (a $40 value) can facilitate the production of about 50 bottles of beer in a wide range of flavors and species, including standbys such as irish stout and brown ale or seasonals such as Summer Delight. Alternately, find a way to fill up empty water balloons with a winemaking equipment kit (a $115 value) and ingredient kit (a $100 value). The kit enables budding vintners to produce about 30 bottles of riesling, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, or myriad other varieties.
The 8th Annual Harvest Festival will showcase the 2010 vintage grapen goodness of eight distinct wineries along the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. With barbecues, hayrides, and free license to use words such as oaky, robust, and foozy, the festival is bound to please cork-poppers of all philosophies. Tickle ear hammers with live music on the 26th and 3rd at Black Walnut Winery or at Chaddsford Winery, which is also hosting a festival wine sale. The Kreutz Creek Vineyards are having their second-annual Grape Stomping Competition on the 25th and 2nd, and Stargazers Vineyard is holding a blending workshop (additional $5 fee).