By Ed Rybczynski
Special to The Dagger
“We look at wine as food.” The words stuck with me as I walked down a grassy slope from the manor house to the vineyard below. The notion of wine as sustenance seemed ancient in origin, something you might read in the bible. The idea seemed as old as the earth from which the grape vines before me grew. Of all the places in the world I might have been at the time, Havre de Grace was one of the most unlikely of candidates.
Minutes earlier, I had completed an interview with Mary and Peter Ianniello, the gracious owners of the Federal style villa known as Mount Felix and the vineyard and winery started by them in 2004. The couple, originally from New York, purchased the unique Harford County property to pursue a dream of cultivating grapes, crafting wine, and designing a lifestyle of their choosing. After getting to know Mary and Peter, I realized that their comment about wine being synonymous with food had lofty implications. In their world, the wine experience nourishes not only the body, but the spirit and soul as well.
Sitting high on a hill above Havre de Grace, the view from Mount Felix reaches towards the southerly expanse of the Chesapeake Bay. The structure was completed in the decades preceding the Civil War; the ground penetrated by the deep roots of history and of local culture. Famed folk artist and decoy carver, R. Madison Mitchell, grew up in the house, Before that, title to the property can be traced back to the Rodgers’ Family. The descendants of the Scottish immigrant, Col. John Rodgers and Elizabeth, his wife, made important contributions to the U.S. Navy and the field of aviation. There are layers of the past there. The picturesque landscape of Mount Felix echos a celebration of life.
While exploring the evenly planted rows of vines looking for a vantage point from which to take photographs, I noticed a gentle breeze moving tender leaves. The light was somehow a little different; the ground particularly dry. Mount Felix lends itself to the art of growing grapes for wine. The soil is fertile and well drained; the grapes are cradled by sunlight reflecting off of bay waters, the morning mist is gently dried by currents of moving air. The hot humid days of summer are followed by the crisp cool nights of autumn. With the constant encouragement of nature and the Ianniellos, the grapes mature and ripen on woody vines before they are harvested in late September. It is then up to the wine makers to express the character of the land where the grapes are grown, and of the surrounding natural elements.
The vineyard at Mount Felix feels like it’s been a part of the Havre de Grace property for ages. The vines simply belong where they are. The same could be said of the current owners of the property. It almost seems as though the historic house has chosen them to usher in the next great chapter of its story while preserving its significant past. In upcoming articles, we’ll follow the progress of Mount Felix grapes through the growing season into the harvest and explore the selection of local wines produced there. We’ll explore the Mount Felix experience through the voices of Peter and Mary Ianniello.
Peter and Mary summed it all up so well, “There is something very beautiful about the right vineyard in the right setting. It’s a feeling we wanted to create and share with other people.”