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.
In 1983, "Beefalo" Bob DiMartino began a small-scale catering operation built around no-frills, classic recipes of pit-roasted barbecue, growing his business to include a carry-out joint, sports bar, and even an upscale banquet hall. Bob's process is simple: slow cooking beef, ham, turkey, slabs of ribs and morsels of pork and chicken over smoking hickory fires and not cutting corners with gas jets or heat vision. The sports bar garnishes these backyard-style feasts with plates of oysters, lump crab cakes, and strip steak, as well as sports games on 20 big-screen TVs and rivers of cold beer.
True to its roots as a catering outfit, Beefalo Bob's supplies parties of up to 10,000 with bull roasts, crab feasts, and roasted pigs, as well as rentals of tents, tables, and moon bounces. Fancy occasions find a home in the 250-person Reflections Hall, decked out with chandeliers, DJs, a fireplace, hints of sparkly gold, and a wide-open hardwood dance floor.
Underneath the same big, country sky that blankets Frederick County's dairy farms and horse ranches, the winery building at Elk Run Vineyards, built in 1756, overlooks rolling hills that were originally a land grant to Lord Baltimore from the King of England. Though this land has seen many uses, today Fred and Carol Wilson and Neill Bassford tend its soil to produce a range of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Maryland award-winning wines such as cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and Cold Friday chardonnay. Winemakers craft these libations using a blend of contemporary equipment and Old-World winemaking techniques. They harvest grapes from plots planted in schist and shale soil designed to follow sustainable agricultural practices.
Though many vintners refer to their winemaking techniques as "old country," those of the Loews are older than most. The family's first forays into the drinkable craft began in the 19th century, in an area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire known as Galicia, now part of Ukraine. There, they brewed honey wines and distributed them throughout Europe. The Loews continued in the business well into the 20th century, but their enterprise was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. The Loew name wouldn't appear on another bottle until nearly a half-century later, in a vineyard an ocean away.
The modern iteration of Loew Vineyards was established in 1982, and today stretches across 37 lush acres in Frederick County. Here, the gravelly soil sprouts flavorful grapes ideal for both red and white wines. The Loews tend to the vines throughout the year, harvesting the grapes in the fall and pruning them and fitting leaves with tiny mittens in the winter. Their crops are transformed into more than a dozen varieties of wine, ranging from the citrus-y, semi-sweet Serendipity to a balanced Cabernet Franc. The family even bottles a honey wine in a nod to their European past.
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Detour Winery is not a big-name brand, but this smallish quality is part of the estate's charm. The other part is its location in the shadow of Catoctin Mountain. Here, close enough to Mother Nature to steal her purse, travelers can stop and savor life in the presence of wildflowers, grapes, pavilions, and softball fields.
The proprietor, Daniel Tamminga, cultivate award-winning wines—their current offerings cover all the bases from fruit and dessert wines to reds, whites, and blushes. But they also cultivate a healthy community with wine festivals, youth athletic-program sponsorships, and a summer concert series. They welcome weddings and corporate events onto their property and routinely host winemaking classes to help out new brewers, much to the horror of unstomped grapes everywhere.
Down the gravel road, past the pine trees and hay fields, and above the lolling meadows lies Galloping Goose Vineyards. For the Hale family, it's a long-held dream come to fruition. Before Ed and Diane Hale planted their first grapes, these fields were devoted solely to farming. But through hard work and intense contract negotiations with the barnyard animals, they transformed the property into a hybrid farm, winery, and vineyard. Today, visitors sip Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon made on-site. And while the farmland provides an idyllic retreat from the hustle and bustle of regular life, an open pavilion with seating for up to 40 makes it suitable for spirited parties as well.