Delaware is the smallest wine producing state in the United States, with just four wineries. The first Swedish settlers to Delaware in 1638 planted grapes and made wine for personal consumption, but It was not until the 20th century that commercial wineries appeared. Nassau Valley Vineyard, the first winery in Delaware, opened in 1987 by Peg Raley and her father Bob in coastal Lewes, Delaware.
Early Growth of Delaware Wine Industry: Nassau Valley Vineyard
Peg Raley had been working for many years in the wine business as a journalist and after years of writing about other people’s wine decided to make wine in her home state of Delaware. She soon discovered that Delaware laws prohibited farm wineries, so she drafted legislation and lobbied for the creation of the Farm Winery law. The legislation was passed in 1991 and the Raley’s opened Nassau Valley Vineyards in October 1993.
Nassau Valley Winery remains the largest of the four wineries (there is also a meadery) in the state and has won numerous awards for its wines. Like the other wineries in Delaware, the Nassau vineyard is planted with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. They also source regionally grown fruit to produce their fourteen wines, both white and red, in dry, sweet, and sparkling styles.
The Raley’s were joined in the farm winery business in 2007 by another family, Tony and Pete Pizzadili. The brothers first planted grapes in 1993 in the Felton Countryside with plans to keep adding vines until they were ready to produce and sell wine. Today Pizzadili Winery grows over 12 different varietals including French hybrids like Chambourcine, Vidal Blanc, and Seyal Blanc for their wines. They take great pride in the fact all the wines they produce come from their vineyard.
Harvest Ridge Winery
Another family farm winery was established in 2011 by Chuck and Chris Nunan. Chuck had been making wine in his basement for years and with the purchase of Harvest Ridge farm decided to turn it into a farm winery. The first vines they planted were Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec, and Merlot and the winery opened in November of 2013 to the public as Harvest Ridge Winery. The winery spans two states, Delaware and Maryland and is right on the Mason-Dixon line.
One of the unique features of the Harvest Ridge property is the existence of one of the original Mason-Dixon’s witness stones and crown markers, number 47. In honor of this historic landmark, they produce two wines that pay homage to it. White #47 is a unique blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay for a refreshing fruit forward profile. Red #47 uses French Hybrids, Italian, and native American grapes to create a rustic red table wine.
Salted Vines Vineyard and Winery
The fourth Winery in Delaware is situated on the coast, as the name implies, and is called the Salted Vines Vineyard and Winery. The winery is the passion project of Adrian and Jessica Mobilia who shortly after marrying transitioned the old Fenwick Wine Cellars into an updated and expanded winery in 2015. Adrian is a 4th generation winemaker having learned the craft from his grandfather and father in Erie Pennsylvania. Shortly after purchasing the land next to Fenwick Cellars he planted 1600 acres of Cabernet and Merlot with plans to add more each Spring. In November of 2016 Salted Vines Vineyard and Winery officially opened with a rustic tasting room, production room, and outdoor areas for visitors and service.
The Delaware wine trail features visits to the wineries above along with numerous breweries, hard cider and meaderies, and distilleries. The Delaware Wine Association supports and advocates for these breweries, distilleries, and wineries and their website provides more information on how and when to visit.