Friday, March 20, 2015

Mike Fiore Receives the Life Time Achievement Award at EWE 2015

This week, Mike Fiore of Fiore Winery in Maryland received the lifetime achievement award at the Eastern Wineries Exposition 2015 in Syracuse, NY. A long time fixture at Wineries Unlimited and at Eastern Wine Expo, Mike has been involved with the industry for more than four decades.

Mike is a big bear of a man. His stocky frame, big shoulders, bushy beard, and loud booming voice make him instantly recognizable. He is as opinionated as hell, and he will let you know his thoughts, which he will make quite clear, regardless of his thick Italian accent. Some people find this grating, others are charmed by it. What you should know is that he is as friendly as he is loud. A good man. He took an idiot wannabe like me under his wing, and has been my friend for almost a decade, offering advice, tips, information, and friendship to a budding winery owner. He is one of he kind of men who made this east coast wine industry possible.

Though Mike Fiore's winemaking knowledge and skill have been honored by wine professionals throughout the U.S., it was his childhood in Italy that built his foundation of great vineyard and winemaking skills.

"My family has been growing grapes for centuries," says Mike, of his family's operations in Italy. Mike grew up in the industry and was Italy's youngest winemaker before he left for America.
When Mike arrived in 1963, he met his beautiful bride Rose and began working for BGE – but he always knew he'd plant vines and make wines. It was more than 20 years until Fiore Winery began production in 1986. The winery vineyard, located in Pylesville, is one of the state's best-known and respected wineries.

As Maryland's most award-winning winemaker, Mike recalls a major highlight when Robert Mondavi congratulated him for an award given to a Fiore wine that beat out other popular California wines, including those of Mondavi. "He walked right over and shook my hand," Mike says.

Fiore Winery is known for many of its wines, but it's the Chambourcin that gets the most attention. "Nobody makes Chambourcin like Mike Fiore," says Maryland Wineries Association director Kevin Atticks. It's big and bold, spicy, fruity and able to be paired with everything from pizza and pasta, to wild game to filet mignon."

"It's my pride and joy," says Mike of his Chambourcin.

Mike didn;t always have it easy when he first started, especially being a new immigrant, with his heavy accent, he encountered some strong resistance from some less informed locals. But Fiore recently told me that after had encountered once specific act of unkindness, it was Deford Sr. who made a show of friendship, as well as that of Ham Mowbray, that truly meant a  lot to him. 

But Mike is more important than just having been around a long time. Mike stands as testament to a whole group of winemakers who bridged the gap between Philip Wagner and Ham Mowbray's Maryland wine generation, and the newest generation of high-end wineries like Black Ankle, Galen Glen, and Old Westminster. It was a guy like Mike Fiore who kept the home fires of Maryland wine burning, and people coming back to the state's wine country (especially for dry table wines), and inspired a new generation of winemakers to invest. That was a tall order in those days (there were many wineries that either failed or were shuttered for other reasons), while Fiore carried the lamp with a small handful of others over the decades. Mike's big shoulders carried the load. 

It was guys like Mike Fiore who led the way in distilling in Maryland. And who still does.

For a long time Mike has quietly made one of the best Chambourcins in the east, as well as a very nice Sangiovese, and a tasty line-up of other wines.

Harford County Ag Banquet

Most charming of all, touching really, was when it came time to accept this most recent award (because he has numerous of them), was that the first person he thanked was his wife of six decades, Rose. With his voice cracking, he told the audience, with her by his side, that he could never have done it without her love and assistance (make no mistake, rumors are that Rose is every bit as tough as her husband can be, and can stand up to him when needed...LOL). They have lived with a division of powers at the winery that has stood them well. And now with another generation in place, Fiore Winery is poised to take the next step into the 21st century.

Congratulations Mike. Well deserved!