With a flourish, the wine-maker pours chardonnay into a glass. You sip as he explains the wine's merits, and to clear your palate before the next sampling you nibble at a bit of locally made cheese. The musty smell of the cellar where wines ferment in oak barrels is as captivating as the sight of the hills and valleys where the grapes were grown. A trip to the Burgundy area of France? No, it's just a day's trip out in nearby Maryland or Virginia, where small wine operations have sprouted and begun to flourish in the past decade. Since vinifera vines were grown successfully at Highbury, an experimental vineyard near The Plains, Virginia,some dozen or so years ago, wine-making in this area has taken off. Many previous attempts had been made at producing Eastern wines since the first settlers watched their delicate European vines wither in Virginia, but with few exceptions it has been only recently that this area has proved that it can produce good wine. Few things can approach the romance of a tour and tasting at an estate winery. A drive along winding country roads to the grounds, a stroll through the sprawling vineyards, perhaps, and sometimes, if your enthusiasm for the wines is rapturous enough, an abundance of samplings offered by the owner can leave you deliciously intoxicated. The past 10 years have seen more than 10 wineries begin operation in Virginia alone; and not only are local wineries increasing in number, but their wines are steadily approaching world class in quality. In fact, someday instead of running to the local liquor mart for a bottle of Paul Masson or Chateau Mouton Rothschild, you might reach for a bottle of Shenandoah Blanc or Cedar Point Red. According to Bret Byrd, owner of the Byrd Vineyards near Myersville, Maryland, "There are absolutely heavenly wines from the East. And 1980 was the harvest of the century for this part of the country." Byrd is not alone in his enthusiasm, as local wines have begun to capture regional awards and hold their own against internationally known wines in tasting competitions. Even California vintner Paul Masson is getting in on the action, planting experimental vineyards on 190 acres near Charlottesville, Virginia. Local winegrowers see the trend as very natural, although a long time in coming. One early pioneer of Eastern wine-making is Philip Wagner of Boordy Vineyards near Towson, Maryland, who has seen the changes take place. His winery, recently sold to a good friend and neighbor, was started around 1940 and proved, he says, "You can grow wine grapes successfully in an area where wine had never been made before." Rose Bower Vineyards of Virginia is already taking orders for its 1984 vintages of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon; previous vintages have already sold out. Similar tales are told by other Eastern wine-makers, many of whom have their own distributors and are on wine lists in several states. Archie Smith of Meredyth Vineyards near Middleburg, Virginia, recently had his Seyval Blanc served at the White House. Smith believes that it is only a matter of time before Easterners become as loyal to Eastern wines as Californians have become to California wines. To help accelerate the acceptance of the Eastern vintages, many area wineries welcome visitors, and most Virginia and Pennsylvania operations sell their wine on the premises. In Maryland, where laws forbid the sale of wine at the vineyards, you can still taste the wines there, and the wine- makers will happily supply you with the names of stores that carry their labels. And quite a few do, among them in the District addition, the wineries themselves range from elaborate estates to mom-and-pop operations. In fact, one winery, The Vineyard near Winchester, Virginia, is operated solely by a pop. Gabe Tenaglia of the Dutch Country Wine Cellar in Pennsylvania runs a similar small operation. "We're really just an overgrown wine cellar," he says, adding that the spread of wine-making to Pennsylvania is even more recent than its growth in Maryland or Virginia. "Pennsylvania wine-growing is in the infant stages," he says. "Small wineries are cropping up all over the place now." This is the harvest season, which many wine-makers celebrate with festivals. Other wine-makers, however, may prefer not to see any outsiders during this, their busiest time. It's best to call before visiting to make sure you'll be welcome. At Meredyth, for instance, Dodie Smith welcomes visitors anytime, "but you may have to jump over hoses if we're really busy." Robert DeFord III of Boordy Vineyards, however, prefers visitors only by appointment or during periodic open houses. "Visitors are discouraged now," he says. "It's for our own concentration. We don't want to compromise the wine in any way." Several vineyards are holding harvest festivals this year. You've already missed a couple, but not to worry -- here are two more. This Sunday is the day to go to SHENANDOAH VINEYARDS near Edinburg, Virginia, for their second annual harvest festival. From noon to 6, there'll be a grape- stomping contest, a barrel-rolling contest and music by two country bluegrass and folk type bands. Grape-stomping, Debbi Dellinger explains, is to be done in large wine barrels cut in half to hold the grapes. The grape juice stomped, however, she assumes, will not be used for their wines. They plan to stick with their more modern wine-press method. Local arts and crafts will be on display, local gouda cheese and country barbecued chicken will be available, and the winery will be open for tours and tastings. There may be a small parking charge because, as Dellinger confesses, "We may have to rent a field." Last year, expecting about 500 visitors, the Shenandoah festival makers were swamped by more than 2,000, so such precautions may well be necessary. (Phone: 703/984-8699.)
BERRYWINE VINEYARDS will hold its annual Oktoberfest on October 17 and 18, from 10 to 6. Country food will be sold, local artists and craftspeople will demonstrate and offer their work for sale, and music will resound throughout the area. There will be no contests at this celebration, however, as Jack Aellen notes that "It's just a big party." The winery will be open for tours and tastings for a small fee. (301/662-8687) Other vineyards, while not holding festivals this year, welcome visitors. Here are the Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania wineries within easy driving distance. Although many list hours for tours, it's always best to call in advance, especially if you plan to bring a large group. MARYLAND BERRYWINE PLANTATIONS, Mount Airy. Tours and tastings from 10 to 6 daily and 1 to 6 Sunday. Closed Wednesdays. Charge is $1.60 for adults 18 and over. 301/662-8687. BON SPURONZA, north of Westminster. By appointment only. 301/876-1100. BOORDY VINEYARDS, Hydes. Open house November 21 or by appointment for those seriously interested. 301/592-5015. BYRD VINEYARDS, Myersville. Open Monday through Friday except Tuesday 1-5, Saturday and Sunday 1-6. Tours during the week are self-guided, tour guides are present on the weekends. Open tasting, slide presentation, children get grape juice. Charge weekends is $2 for adults, 75 cents for children, weekdays $1.50 for adults, 50 cents for children. Wine purchase is $1 off with tour. 301/293-1110. MONTBRAY VINEYARDS, Silver Run Valley. Tours and tastings Monday through Saturday 10-6, Sunday 1-6. Groups over 10 $1 each. 301/346-7583. PROVENZA VINEYARD, Brookeville. By appointment only from October on. Tours and tastings. 301/774- 2310. VIRGINIA
BARBOURSILLE VINEYARDS, 17 miles northeast of Charlottesville. Tours by appointment. 703/832- 3824. FARFELU VINEYARD, Flint Hill. Tours and tastes by appointment. 703/364-2930. Highbury Vineyard, The Plains. The experimental vineyard of the Vinifera Winegrowers Association. Tours only for people seriously interested in home or commercial grape-growing and wine-making, by appointment only. 703/754-8564. KINBURN VINEYARD, between Middleburg and The Plains off Route 773. A home vineyard, Kinburn does not sell wine, but welcomes visitors by appointment. Grapes have been picked, so there isn't a lot to see at the moment. 703/253-5617. LA ABRA FARM & WINERY, Lovingston. Tours and tastes Wednesday through Sunday 1-5, groups over ten by appointment. Picnic areas and hiking nearby. 804/263-5392. MEREDYTH VINEYARDS, Middleburg. Tours daily 10- 4 except Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. $1 per person for large groups. 703/687-6277. NAKED MOUNTAIN VINEYARD, Markham. Open to the public in March 1982 for tastings and tours Wednesday through Sunday 12-6; before then by appointment only. 703/364-1609. PIEDMONT VINEYARD, Middleburg. Tours and tastings daily except Monday 10-4. Large groups $1 each. 703/687-5134. ROSE BOWER VINEYARD AND WINERY, Hampden- Sydney. Open seasonally only. Next season approximately November 6 through December 20. Open Friday through Sunday 12-6 for wine purchasing, tours and tastings at 2 and 4. 804/223- 8209. SHENANDOAH VINEYARDS, Edinburg. Tours and tastings Monday through Friday 10-6 and Saturday and Sunday 12-6. 703/984-8699. PENNSYLVANIA ADAMS COUNTY WINERY, Orrtanna. Open Thursday through Monday 12:30 to 6. Tours, tastings, slide presentation. For a guided tour call first. 717/334- 4631. BUCKINGHAM VALLEY WINERY, Buckingham. Help yourself tours and tastings Tuesday through Friday 12-7, Saturday 10-6, Sunday 12-4. 215/794-7188. DUTCH COUNTRY WINE CELLAR, 21/2 miles north of Lenhartsville. Tours and tastings Monday through Friday, 1 to 5; Saturday, 9 to 6. 215/756-6061.