Explore Carroll: Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester offers education in wine, and community service

With the Maryland Wine Festival less than a week away, Marylanders are preparing their palates for a weekend of inspecting the color, nose and flavor of the state’s many wines.

One Baltimore group, however, visited Manchester this month not to get a taste of wine, but a taste of wine country.

Ray Brasfield, owner of Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester, has given tours of his winery before, but the group he hosted Sept. 2 was a special one.

Six people visited from Chimes International, a Baltimore-based organization that provides services and assistance to people with developmental disabilities, mental illness and similar needs.

“It’s part of what we do — we do a lot of educating here,” Brasfield said.

Marty Lampner, president of Chimes, said learning is one of the goals of Liberty Club West, a program for seniors that’s run by Chimes for elder residents with disabilities.

“We’re trying to give them the same activities that any other senior center would do,” Lampner said.

“What we expect them to come away with is a better understanding of their community,” he said.

Before Brasfield gave the Chimes group a tour of his winery, he hopped on their small bus and guided the driver to Quail Vineyard, just north of Manchester. On the way to and from the vineyard, Brasfield played tour guide.

“Manchester is at the highest place in Maryland before you get to Frederick,” he told the group on the bus. He also showed them where Christmas Trees come from — Thomas Tree Farm on Route 30.

The vineyard, however, offered a special treat. Chimes clients and chaperones each tasted a wine grape straight from the vine. The grapes were smaller, more juicy and more acidic than grapes grown for eating, but were nonetheless sweet.

Bob White, who owns the vineyard, was happy to host the group and to lose a handful of grapes for the sake of fun.

“Ray’s a good friend — he asked if he could bring ’em up and I said ‘sure,’ ” he said.

White’s motivation for hosting the Chimes group was, “So they get the experience, so they’re not trapped in their world.

“I think it’s just wonderful that they get out,” he said.

Brasfield’s wife, Joyce Honsermeier, shares that sentiment.

“They need this kind of stuff,” she said.

Honsermeier helps run Cygnus Wine Cellars, but she’s also an organist and pianist, as well as a teacher at a Baltimore area Montessori School.

More than a decade ago, when she and Brasfield lived in Baltimore, Honsermeier taught some Chimes clients, which is how she and Brasfield have a connection with the organization.

“I had a couple students who were almost blind or legally blind,” she recalled.

Back at the winery, Brasfield and Honsermeier gave the Chimes group the grand tour of their small winery on Long Lane.

Hosting the group was a good fit, because Cygnus Wine Cellars is a small operation that fully accessible.

“Some people have big machines that do all this,” Brasfield told the group as he showed them a cylindrical grape crusher and a hand-operated corking mechanism.

The couple has operated Cygnus Wine Cellars for about 14 years from a building that used to be a slaughterhouse.

In the winery’s aging room, Brasfield showed his guests the big wooden barrels where wine is aged as much as a year and a half. He said the winery gets between two-thirds to three-quarters of its grapes from Carroll County vineyards.

Brasfield, a former aerospace engineer, said he started the winery simply because, “I wanted to be able to make wine. Once you make it, you’ve got to do something with it, and selling it seemed like a good idea.”

But that’s not what he and his wife were doing Sept. 2. While many of Cygnus’ tours are done for marketing purposes, Brasfield noted that this one was more about education and community service.

“It’s not something that they would be involved in consuming,” Brasfield said of the Chimes guests. “They’re not going to be buying wine.”

But the tour did get the clients out of the city and out of their routine.

“They’ll enjoy their day out,” he said, “and they’ll remember what grapes look like at a vineyard.”

Follow Jay R. Thompson on Twitter

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