Thursday, March 21, 2013


Mike Fiore has been a force in Maryland wine for many, many years. His booming voice can be heard at many conferences throughout the eastern United States. His big, booming, and welcoming voice, with his powerful Italian accent, make his a character hard to forget.
But underneath the friendly, big hearted, chatty exterior, is someone who has a constant thirst for knowledge, an excellent grasp of the past, and an eagle eye for the next opportunity in the wine business.
I have always been a fan of Mike’s. Sometimes his brash talk or unassailable opinions (Mike always has an opinion) rub some the wrong way, but in the end, his voice has been an important one, and his participation in east coast wine making has been in undeniable asset to the advancement of winemaking in the region. End of story.
And Mike and his wife have been long time fixtures on the Maryland wine scene. Mike is a bridge to the past. I recently sat down with him to talk about the future, which he is very excited about, and of course, review the past.
Mike is part of a bridge generation. Philip Wagner was the pioneer in these parts. He was part erudite journalist, part Johnny Appleseed of hybrids and winemaking techniques. He established the first winery in Maryland, and was godfather to a whole generation of winemakers on the east coast. One of those acolytes was a young, boisterous Italian immigrant named Mike Fiore.
Fiore sat down with me to pour one of his new, upcoming products….not a wine. But oak aged grappa. His was the first winery to take advantage of changes in the Maryland law to set up and open a distillery. He was also excited because he had just bought a new filter, an even flow, at the show. A note on the giant, shiny new stainless-steel-and-glass model on the floor of the trade show read: Not for sale, owned by Fiore Winery.
Mike Fiore is a bridge. He was mentored by the pioneers of the region. He’s been in business for decades.  And now he is seeing the next new generation of wineries come up. Places like Black Ankle and Glenn Manor and others. He’s seen whole new regions mushroom from nowhere.
It was lunch time at the conference we happened to be attending. At one point Mike was holding court chatting with the President of the American Wine Association and with Richard Leahy, moderator of many of the panels and one of the organizers of the Eastern Wineries Exposition 2013. People laughed and chatted, and told stories. Mr. Wagner and Ham were the bulk of the stories.
We all sat eating pasta and poached salmon and chatted. Through the windows we could see it snowing in downtown Lancaster, PA. Mike loves to tell stories. So here was Mike talking about the old days, remembering Philip Wagner and Hamilton “Ham” Mowbray. Mike said that Philip Wagner was very helpful, and everyone went to him for advice. And when Ham opened his mouth, everyone shut up to listen. Ham apparently could be very funny at times, but he was extremely respected as a winemaker. Ham was a legendary character in the Maryland wine scene who made high quality wines for many, many years.


It was at this point Mike motioned to all of us to clean out our wine glasses, and he poured us his new elixir. We were all curious.

Grappa is made from the pressed or desiccated grape skins that have already been used to make wine. One adds water to the pressed skins, and stirs the soup around and lets it sit for a week or so, and then distills that liquid to make grappa. Grappa is the white lightening of Italy. Some are hard and brutal, still other just burn, and others are elegant and smooth. It all depends on what your tastes are and what kind of goals you have. Regardless, in many a fine restaurants in Rome, after dinner,  the waiter will roll out a cart of grappas for you to choose from.

There are several kinds of grappa, but as far as aficionados go, there are only two kinds. Clear, unadulterated, honest grappa. And reserve grappa. Mike had a reserve grappa. He insisted 20 times that the label on the bottle was not final.

The grappa had been stored in oak for two years. It had the lovely color of a fine brandy or bourbon. A gorgeous honey colored amber liquor. We swirled the wine around in our glasses.

I smelled it and it smelled like grappa, pungent and volatile, but also muted and more mature, with hints of spice and vanilla, obviously attained from its time in oak. We all sipped it. It was a smooth as silk, and nicer than many fine brandies I’ve ever had. It was warming without burning incessantly. A eautiful and soothing spirit. Absolutely wonderful. With the snow falling outside, and us sitting at a table telling stories, it was the perfect companion.