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.
Established in 1986, Basignani Winery cultivates and bottles hand-crafted red and white wines using a traditional cellar method and techniques perfected over several years. Owners Bert and Lynne Basignani have named some of their favorite wines after their four children, such as the dry Elena, a white seyval blend aged in oak, or the Lorenzino Reserve, a rich blend of cabernet sauvignon and franc melded with fruity merlot. Wednesday?Sunday, the winery holds half-hour tastings of its creations and encourages?weather and Dionysus?s mood permitting? self guided tours of the vineyard. A 20-minute drive north of Baltimore, the winery boasts rows of plump green and burgundy grapes hanging off vines as the winery?s resident border collies run and play in the fields. In spring, vibrant fuchsia petals burst from branches and delicate blush blooms droop low to the ground to provide cover for a romantic meal or microfiche exchange among visitors.
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.
Like a United Nations of varietals, some of the world’s tastiest wines from countries such as Argentina, Chile, Italy, and France are well-represented within Jackie’s Wine Bar. Connoisseurs savor the unique notes of each pour while investigating the black-framed pictures on Jackie’s coffee-colored walls and the shelves of wine bottles that vie for attention behind the bar by wearing chic designer labels. On Thursday evenings, free salsa lessons invite patrons to set down their glasses and grab their dance partner’s hand; Saturday nights feature live bands that serve dulcet melodies as aromatic bouquets serenade olfactory receptors. Fresh air courses through Jackie’s outdoor patio, where visitors can alternate between sips of wine or beer and bites of sandwiches, desserts, and appetizers.
As guests walk into 49 West, they encounter exposed brick and open bookcases under soft and natural lighting, all of which come together to foster a cozy atmosphere for dining, sipping coffee, or socializing. Created in the style of European restaurant-cafés, guests come to casually dine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or to check out hanging artwork from the brushes of a monthly rotating local artist. The staff serves cups of coffee, lattes, and spiked coffee drinks all day alongside carefully crafted dishes of steamed scrambled eggs, homemade scones and muffins, and sandwiches. At dinner, they pour martinis, wines, bourbons, and cognacs to complement the chef’s seafood, chicken, and vegetable entrees. As patrons savor their bites, the melodies from jazz groups playing nightly set the evening’s rhythm.
The Fair Hill shopping center doesn't look like wine country from the outside, but judging by the steady stream of freshly corked bottles that pass through The Winery at Olney's doors, looks are certainly deceiving. Despite its unorthodox location, the winery maintains close ties with global winemaking hot spots; instead of growing its own grapes in spare tanning beds, the staff sources varietals from locations as far away as California, Chile, and France. The winemakers take over from there and ferment the juice, rack the barrels, and bottle more than 25 different wines onsite.
Thanks to this exhaustive work, The Winery at Olney has a bottle for virtually every palate. The chardonnay's tropical and citrusy notes give way to an oak-tinged finished, and the zinfandel's hints of spice add balance to the luscious flavors of ripe blackberries. In addition to these single-varietal options, the winery also blends complementary fruits into some of its wines to form hybrid creations, including green-apple riesling and cranberry shiraz.
With all of these options to consider, the task of choosing the right wine might seem daunting. The Winery at Olney’s staffers help beginners define their palates with the store’s U-Vint section. With the helpful guidance of a winery expert, visitors can make their own wine by selecting a varietal and then adding water and yeast to the grapes. The mix then spends 30–40 days fermenting and settling while the winery's team helps by racking and filtering the juice. Customers then return to apply custom labels and foil capsules to 28–30 bottles of their personalized wine.