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Meet the Winemakers of the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail

Published: 07/13/2016

Meet Jeff Gormley of Thunder Ridge Vineyards

Jeff Gormley owns Thunder Ridge Vineyards with his daughter, Alex. He began as a home winemaker using berries before tackling the grape. Jeff grows his grapes and makes his wine on a six-acre farm in Heidelberg Township, between Hanover and Spring Grove.  

Jeff Gormley

Q: How did you get your start as a winemaker?

A: I started making fruit wine from a strawberry patch on our property. Over the years we planted various berries and made wine from them. Eventually I decided to purchase 15 grapevines from a local nursery (Niagara and Catawba).  I had no clue on how to make grape wine so it pretty much was a disaster. But I sat with an experienced winemaker, and enrolled in the Enology and Viticulture Program at the Harrisburg Area Community College. Over the next several years I moved my home operation to a detached garage on my property, planted several hundred more vines and continued with my education at HACC.  Friends and family would gather in the garage to evaluate wine and offer opinions, and today we are a commercial winery with 3,500 vines. 

Q: What did you do before you were a winemaker?  

A: During the first year as a commercial winemaker, I remained employed by the Anne Arundel County Fire Department as a Lieutenant and Hanover Hospital as a Paramedic. I retired in July of 2015 after 29 years.

Q: What's your philosophy behind making wine?

A: My philosophy is really simple. I want to offer a clean, well-balanced wine that is easy to drink, keeping it as natural as possible.  

Q: What makes Pennsylvania and Maryland wine special?

A: Because of the growing conditions in Pennsylvania wine regions, many international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are being successfully grown  and being made into some superb wines. The climate and soil composition of south-central Pennsylvania has frequently been compared to the Bordeaux wine-growing region of France.  Additionally, hybrid varieties developed to grow well in these East Coast wine regions are successful and making great wines. For the local traditional wine lover, the native varieties such as Concord and Niagara make tasty styles suitable to these palates, and the abundance of quality fruits and berries in PA allow for additional styles of wine.

Q: Tell us about a time when a wine turned out in an unexpected, but good, way?

A: When we received our license, my daughter, a partner in the business, decided to make a fruit wine blend.  Usually when we blend wine, we blend finished wine which has been fermented separately. Much time goes into the blending process, but this time she decided to ferment two fruits together not knowing the outcome. This could have been disastrous, but turned out to be one of our top-selling fruit wines. 

Meet Kevin Mooney of Harford Vineyard & Winery

Kevin Mooney

Kevin Mooney has been making wine for 11 years at Harford Vineyard & Winery, where a little experiment with some leftover Vidal led to the winery's best-selling bottle. The winery is in Harford County, Maryland.

Q: How did you get your start as a winemaker?

A: I started by running a brew-on premises winemaking facility at the vineyard for five years. This helped us sell more grapes and juice and gave us the ability to test various blends and different styles of making wine. We then participated in as many classes as we could through Penn State or the Maryland Winery Association to further our knowledge in the field.  

Q: What did you do before you were a winemaker?

A: Before becoming a winemaker, I worked 38 years with the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. My first 17 years were spent in Gas Operation at two propane facilities, which supplemented the natural gas distribution system when demand was high and supply was low. I spent the next 21 years working in various other departments at Baltimore Gas and Electric Company before retiring and focusing on the winery full-time.

Q: What's your philosophy behind making wine?

A: To continually refine what we do from grape growing to the crush in the pursuit of making wines our customers can enjoy.   

Q: What makes Pennsylvania and Maryland wine special?

A: The Mid-Atlantic Region has a very diverse landscape and soils. We are in the Piedmont Region of Harford County Maryland, and the grapes grown here reflect the soils in which they are grown. Our vineyard is planted on a south facing slope, which helps temper the winter chill during the day and provides good air drainage at night.

Q: Tell us about a time when a wine turned out in an unexpected, but good, way?

A: Before we became a licensed winery and we commercially grew grapes, we would keep some of our grapes for our own winemaking. One year, we had six gallons of Vidal wine sitting around for some time, and I did not have the time to deal with it so I had considered dumping it out. My youngest son was graduating high school, so for his graduation party we played with the Vidal and made a Vidal/Peach Sangria (6+ gallons). It was a hit and has been our best-selling wine since we have opened as a winery.