THURMONT, Md. – Voytek Fizyta is not waiting until his grapes mature before beginning the process of turning the succulent treats into wine.
While his grapes grow, Fizyta is using the oldest method to make wines at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard in Thurmont.
Fizyta’s grapes will be ready for harvesting later this year, but the Polish immigrant and electrical engineer has already made a variety of honey wines, traditionally known as Mead.
The vineyard represents the ninth and newest Frederick County winery, and offers two table wines and three dessert honey wines.
“The growth in wineries has been pretty dynamic lately,” Fizyta said. “When we got our license, we were number 34 or 35. Now, there are 50 wineries in Maryland.”
The draw may be in the crop’s profitability.
“As an agriculture crop, you can get more income per acre than you get with wheat or other crops,” Fizyta said.
But the vocation comes with some challenges.
“It’s more than a hobby,” Fizyta said. “It takes money, grapes grow very slow and you face many obstacles from nature.”
When Fizyta and his wife, Alicja, looked to relocate from Potomac five years ago, they immediately fell in love with the hilly terrain in Thurmont he described as “our little heaven on Earth.”
The couple experimented with the soil to ensure its viability for a vineyard by planting two rows of grapes, then wheat and soybeans were planted to recultivate the soil. The resulting product looked healthy, and two acres were planted in the first year. An additional two acres were planted in April.
“We had some grapes last year, but unfortunately, the birds ate them all,” Fizyta said. Birds were a problem for the entire East Coast last year.
“They swarmed on vineyards with a vengeance,” Fizyta said. “The summer was dry and my only consolation is the grapes were tasty.”
Wine production involves a lot of work, and that’s why good wine can’t be cheap, Fizyta said.
Growing grapes is labor-intensive, which makes the endeavor expensive. Vines grow an inch a day, the grower has to pay attention to minute details and it’s difficult to mechanize everything, especially if the vineyard is small, Fizyta said.
“Every vine needs attention,” Fizyta said. “You have to touch each plant, because you only want a certain amount of fruit from each vine.”
Making wine is an art, Fizyta said.
“Sometimes you go by the book, sometimes you got to incorporate your own ways of doing things, learning from the notes you take along the way. That way, you develop your own character for the vineyard.”
For example, a vine with too many shoots stresses the plant in the wrong way, Fizyta said.
Perched along hilly terrain, grapes get ample sunlight at Catoctin Breeze Winery. The constant breeze evaporates moisture, which is a main problem for East Coast grape growers. Moisture propagates disease, he said.
“Even in the summer, we have constant breeze,” hence, the name, Catoctin Breeze, Fizyta said.
The Fizytas outfitted their home with a 1,200-square-foot basement to accommodate making wines. They expect their first significant harvest from the 2010 planting later this year.
The business is licensed to sell wine directly to consumers and restaurants, using the company’s website, www.catoctinbreeze.com.
Only two years in the winemaking business and the Fizytas have already won a bronze medal for a cabernet in the Fingerlakes competition in New York.
“I was hoping for better,” Fizyta said.
Making wine is fun but it’s also a serious endeavor because you’re dealing with food, and you have to be cognizant that you are not only making something you like, but other people will like, Fizyta said.
Assisted by their son, Adam, the Fizytas plan to build a cellar and production center into the hill near their home, and a tasting room later. The new location will help with cooling and heating costs.
Fizyta said he encountered many business-friendly Frederick County government workers as he began the winery.
“They look at wineries as having tourist potential for the state,” he said.
Being a part of the nine-member Frederick Wine Trail, Fizyta is hoping to capitalize on the flow of tourists who will be passing through the county on their way to Gettysburg for the 150th Civil War anniversary.
The couple came to the U.S. from Poland in 1981 and Voytek Fizyta began working as an automotive engineer with Chrysler Corp. in Michigan. They moved to Maryland in 1994. He owns Poltron Corp., an engineering company that produces bearings, temperature sensor components, electric motors and rotating components for the automotive and machine tool industries.