Drink Local Wine Comes to Maryland

dlw-drink-local-wine-logoDrink Local Wine, established in 2008 by Jeff Siegel of The Wine Curmudgeon and Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre, held its fifth annual drink local conference in Maryland on April 13. In previous years the conference was held in Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado. We attended the event and concluded that it was a wonderful way to showcase the great strides made by Maryland’s winemakers. The next two posts will capture the highlights of the conference that culminated in a twitter tasting held at Camden Yards.

Our participation in the conference actually began with a media tour of Maryland wineries on Friday, April 12. We boarded a bus with other bloggers, columnists, and writers from the Tremont Suites Hotel in Baltimore. Our first destination was Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard located in Dickerson, Maryland. Winemaker Benoit Pineau was on hand to conduct a tasting of Sugarloaf’s wines; however, Elk Run Vineyards’ representatives were also on hand to likewise showcase their best wines. A buffet of cheeses, olives, breads and deli meats were offered for enjoyment. Favorites included the 2011 Comus, a lush Bordeaux blend created in a difficult year. Yes, Maryland got the same copious amounts of rain in 2011 that plagued Virginia that summer. My ultimate favorite, though, was the 2010 EVOE!, so named after the excited cries of ancient Bacchanalians to honor the god, Bacchus. In a contrast of seasons, the 2010 EVOE! was more dark-hued and complex. Like Comus, it is a Bordeaux-style blend. From Elk Run, I enjoyed the Alsatian-styled 2011 Gewurztraminer. Tours were offered, and an added treat was the ability to vote for an upcoming release. Benoit Pineau asked us all to sample four red wine samples and then to vote on a favorite, and these included a Cabernet Franc, a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc (75%) and Merlot (25%) blend and then a Merlot (75%) and Cabernet Franc (25%) blend. These were all from the 2012 vintage. My vote? The Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. Benoit will be the ultimate judge on which will be finally bottled, but I will definitely follow up to see if I picked the winner!
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By lunchtime, it was time for the press junket to leave Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards; our next destination was Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy. Did I mention lunch? It was here that we were treated to a lunch prepared by Woodberry Kitchen of Baltimore, a restaurant devoted to eating and drinking local. We were greeted by a glass of an outstanding 2012 Gruner Veltliner (yes, Gruner in Maryland) that complemented seasonal tartines. Lunch began with a warm greeting from owners Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron. They gave a brief synopsis of their story and the decision to make wine in Maryland. The couple opted to purchase farm property with the rockiest, least fertile soil possible; not good for corn or tomatoes, but great for a vineyard. Anyway, we tasted the excellent results of their decision. With grilled Chesapeake oysters we sipped the floral 2011 Bedlam, a blend of Chardonnay, Albarino, Muscat, Viognier and Gruner Veltliner. Wheat berry salad with radishes, pea shoots and pecans was paired with a berry-driven 2010 Rolling Hills, a red blend that included all of the Bordeaux grapes. The main event, though, was a platter of whole Maryland Suffolk grilled lamb, lamb sausage, scallions, and potatoes. The lamb was indeed fresh and local; Woodberry Kitchen’s George the Butcher butchered the lamb, and it was absolutely divine. Equally divine was the 2010 Leaf Stone Syrah with its elements of tobacco, dark plum, and blackberries. (This was my favorite pour of the day.) A dessert course rounded out our dining experience, and we were served Beiler’s Heritage Acres cornflour cake made from locally produced flour. This was partnered with a port-style Terra Dulce II.
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With our appetites satisfied, we departed for the last leg of our tour that concluded with a visit and tasting to Boordy Vineyards located in Hydes, Maryland. Vineyards here are nestled in the Piedmont Plateau and the Blue Ridge Province. Robert Deford greeted us and provided a brief history of the winery. Boordy Vineyards is the oldest commercial winery in Maryland, and Philip and Jocelyn Wagner established the winery in 1930 to protest Prohibition. Deford bought the property in 1980; however, he replanted the vineyard in 2005 to maximize its potential to produce world-class wines. We tasted the results in the tasting room. The buzz-worthy wines were the rich 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve and the 2010 Landmark Reserve, an award winning blended red wine. Also on hand to pour their wines was Cygnus Wine Cellars and Fiore Winery. Fiore Winery offered two grappas, and these were an interesting twist to the traditional line up of white, red and dessert wines.
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The day ended with a dinner at the Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point, an event hosted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Wineries Association. Yes, more food and wine. However, I will provide details about this experience in the next post. Before I sign out, though, I must thank Nomacorc for sponsoring the very comfy bus that took us hither and yon. I’ll write more about Nomacorc in a future post.

Start your own tours of Maryland wineries soon. The wineries mentioned in this post are great places to begin. Just mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you!

Big Plans at Big Cork

On Tuesday, June 28, Virginia Wine Time attended an event that welcomed heralded winemaker Dave Collins, formerly at Breaux Vineyards, to upstart winery Big Cork Vineyards in Maryland. Others in attendance include Kevin Atticks and Regina McCarthy of the Maryland Wineries Association, Dave McIntyre, wine critic for the Washington Post, and Erika and Kirsten, bloggers for Cellar Blog. Owners Randy and Jennifer Thompson hosted the event at the Big Cork Vineyard.

Fans of Breaux Vineyards were surprised to learn this past spring that Dave Collins would be leaving the winery after 14 years of winemaking at Breaux Vineyards. In fact, since Breaux Vineyards began operations, Collins was its only winemaker. However, the opportunities and challenges associated with a new vineyard and winery beckoned Collins to join the Big Cork effort. The implications of the move will go beyond Big Cork; the Maryland wine industry, like Virginia, has grown dramatically in the past several years. With growth comes the increased expectation that quality will also increase, and adding Collins to the Big Cork team will certainly raise the bar in that regard.

The event to introduce Collins as winemaker at Big Cork began in the newly planted vineyard. Randy Thompson welcomed guests as they arrived to the vineyard and greeted them with a glass of wine (of course). I chatted with Thompson for quite a while, and I can attest to his enthusiasm for this endeavor. The vineyard itself is actually part of 100 acres of property owned by Thompson and his family. He now has 22 of those acres planted in vines, and varieties include all of the Bordeaux red grapes, syrah, barbera, nebbiolo, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, and albarino will be planted next year. Plans to expand plantings are also underway to reach a goal of 30 acres planted in vines. Randy also intends to go as “green” as possible in the vineyard and has already planted kestrel stations so that the flying predators can control vermin in the vineyard, and propane herbicides will be used to maintain weed control. Why propane? Thompson’s business expertise is in the propane industry, and apparently heated propane can be safely used in the garden (or vineyard) to rid it of unwanted weeds. Of course, the question that I asked next was, “Why did you want to get into the tricky and difficult business of winemaking?” Thompson loves wine; in particular, local wine. Like many local wine lovers, Randy excitedly sees a craft that is only getting better over time, and he wants to contribute to that industry. While surveying his own family-held property, Randy noted that farming was always part of the land’s tradition, and he believed that planting a vineyard should be part of the process.

Thompson turned his attention to the guest of honor, Dave Collins, once all invited attendees had arrived. A toast to honor Collins and Big Cork was offered, and we were all invited to the Thompson home for heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine. Jennifer Thompson greeted us and led us to the kitchen where a buffet was arranged. Windows in the home allowed guests to gaze upon the mountainside landscape with the budding vineyard in clear view. The Thompson plan to eventually rent the home as a guest facility, and the breathtaking views (and wines) would certainly be an attraction. As we sipped and dined, we were able to chat with Dave Collins about operating a new vineyard and winery in an industry that is still fairly young. Collins reminded us that he got his start in the wine business when the Virginia industry was still in its infancy; in fact, he apprenticed under Lew Parker at Willowcroft Vineyards in the 1980s. From there he took the helm as winemaker at Breaux Vineyards when it began its operation in the 1990s. Big Cork Vineyards is not that far from Breaux Vineyards, so as far as Collins is concerned the micro-climates are fairly similar, and helping to start a new venture is within his realm of experience.

Speaking of wine, when will Big Cork open to the general public? The plan is to have wine in the bottle by summer or fall of 2012. Wines will be produced from grapes purchased from a local vineyard in Washington County, Maryland. From the estate vineyard, the goal is to produce 1000 cases from the 2012 vintage. Releases will include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and viognier. Does Collins have any predictions about the first vintage? “You can’t tell your child in the womb that it is going to be an architect,” replied Collins.

We are certain that Dave Collins will bring his excellent architectural skills to the winemaking at Big Cork Vineyards. Industry insiders Kevin Atticks and Regina were likewise enthused about the potential for Big Cork Vineyards with Collins at the helm. We will return to monitor the progress as it unfolds, and we eagerly await the first pours from Big Cork Vineyards. As the delightful evening came to a close we bid our farewells to Dave Collins as well as to Randy and Jennifer Thompson. We left feeling confident that this team has the energy, enthusiasm and experience necessary to continue the drive toward excellence that is the ultimate goal of the Maryland wine industry.

Virginia Wine Time Goes To Maryland

This post should have posted a couple of weeks ago, but out of respect for Virginia Wine month we waited until November to write it.  On our way back home from the bloggers meet up on the Eastern Shore, we decided to follow the grape signs along the highway to Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery. Our experiences with Maryland wines are very limited so we were anxious to see what Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery had to offer.

I must say that the grounds are stunning and offer a breathtaking view of Chesapeake Bay.  We made a decision to spend time appreciating the bay vista regardless of the winery experience, but we were also eager to sample the wines.  The white wine offerings were the strongest with the Chardonnays topping the list.  The crisp 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay was Paul’s immediate favorite, and it offered a pleasant nose of citrus and pear. An easy sipper, it could also pear well with salads and light cheeses.  The 2007 Chardonnay Reserve provided a more food friendly option.  Aged in French barrels for twenty-one months, it presented pear aromas and flavors with some hazelnuts on the nose.  With the oak-aging, a creamier, honeyed texture was inevitable.  Serve with any dish that includes a cream sauce!

Of the red wines, the Meritage NV held the greatest potential.  Dark cherry and brambleberry characteristics led to a spicy, tannic finish.  This one could age for a couple of years and should pair well with beef, lamb or game meats.

As we tasted away, we learned that owner and winemaker Tom Shelton planted the property’s twelve acres of vines in 1999.  In 2008, the winery became the first to open in Wicomico County.  Tom is dedicated to producing small quantities of quality wines, and plantings include Pinot Gris,Sauvignon Blanc, Charonnay, and most of the red  Bordeaux varieties.

With our tasting done, we opted to share a glass of the 2007 Chardonnay Reserve, and we made good on our promise to explore the grounds.  We walked down the pier and spotted water fowl as they enjoyed a crisp autumn swim in the Bay.  It was a sunny but brisk afternoon, and we made sure to take in every inch of scenery.  

We hope to continue our forays into Maryland wine country, and readers should do the same.  Planning a visit to the Eastern Shore? Stop by Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery for a tasting, and mention that Virginia Wine Time sent you.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard

Last weekend Warren and I decided to visit a Maryland winery. Our choice was Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard just 40 minutes outside of DC. We visited them once about 3 years ago but never wrote about them.

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Sugarloaf is located on 92 acres in Montgomery County Maryland. The tasting room is in a tent permanently set up next to the winery. Next to the tasting tent is an old barn. They have renovated the lower level of the barn for retail sales and seating.

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For our tasting Warren chose the premier wines and I selected the classic wines. Warren was able to taste two whites and four reds and I was able to taste three whites and four reds. A gold star was awarded to the 2007 Chardonnay is a light bodied wine with aromas of melon and grapefruit with lemon and pepper on the tongue. It spends 16 months on oak. Another gold star was given to the 2006 Merlot. This one had raspberry on the nose with flavors of black cherry on the tongue.

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After our tasting, our tasting associate introduced us to the owner who showed us around the winery facility and told us all about their vines, wines, and future plans. Once our tour was complete we opted for a bottle of the 2007 Chardonnay to enjoy with our lunch. It was a perfect match.

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We enjoyed our time visiting a Maryland winery. We hope to visit a different Maryland winery soon. If you visit Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard please tell them Virginia Wine Time sent you!

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