August 2017 by Elizabeth Smith
When you think of Maryland, what comes to mind? Not having spent much time in Maryland until recently, I immediately thought of the Eastern Shore, crab cakes, and the Baltimore Orioles. It turns out that Maryland is much more than beaches, baseball, and seafood. It is a world-class winegrowing and winemaking region that dates back to 1648. Let’s take a virtual tour of four of my favorite Maryland wineries.
Old Westminster Vineyard & Winery
Old Westminster Vineyard & Winery is a family affair, with founders and parents, Jay & Virginia Baker, vigneron Drew Baker, and his sisters, winemaker Lisa Hinton and estate manager Ashli Johnson, at the helm of this relatively new foray into winemaking. The idea of turning the family farm into a vineyard and winery came to fruition during a trip to the Napa Valley in 2010. Starting with 7600 vines planted in 2011, Old Westminster now makes 30,000 cases of wine, with 50% of the grapes coming from their home vineyard and the other half carefully sourced from nearby vineyards such as Cool Ridge Vineyard, Links Bridge Vineyard, and Birchview Vineyard. Old Westminster has also just broken ground at a new vineyard site, Burnt Hill, whose rolling hills are begging to be planted. In November 2015, they opened their beautiful tasting room. Old Westminster’s mission is quite simple: To craft distinctive wines with a sense of place. Hinton’s winemaking style is more hands off than hands on, handcrafting wines with minimal intervention – native yeast fermentation and unfiltered – all showcasing each vineyard’s distinctive terroir. A few of my Old Westminster favorites include their 2016 Pét-Nat Albariño, 2016 Pét-Nat Barbera Rosé, 2016 Cool Ridge Vineyard Greenstone and Limestone Grüner Veltliner/Viognier blends, 2014 Anthem Bordeaux-style red blend, and the 2015 Cool Ridge Vineyard Outlier Petit Verdot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. I must admit, though, I couldn’t get enough of the effervescent Pét-Nats, which delightfully tickled my tongue and my senses.
Black Ankle Vineyards
A dream of a career in the wine business often starts with that one wine moment. For Black Ankle co-founder Ed Boyce, it was a bottle of 1979 Mouton Rothschild. For Sarah O’Herron, it was a lifetime of wine enjoyment shared with family and friends. From these moments, the vision of Black Ankle Vineyards was conceived 17 years ago, and in 2002, Boyce and O’Herron purchased the land that would become their farm and estate vineyard. The inaugural vintage was 2006 and the first wines sold in 2008, the same year they opened their tasting room. Fast forward to today: Black Ankle is a premier Maryland producer of white, rosé, and red wines. Wines from their 80,000 grapevines are estate grown and sustainably produced. During my recent visit, I was introduced to Black Ankle with a mouth-watering glass of their Albariño and a tour of the property, then subsequently spoiled with a historic vertical tasting of their Crumbling Rock red blend, vintages 2006-2013 (except 2009), and Leaf-Stone Syrah 2007-2010-2011-2012-2013, paired with local cheeses by Shepherd’s Manor Creamery, Cherry Glen Creamery, Chapel’s Country Creamery, and Whispering Breeze Farm. I was truly honored to taste Black Ankle’s story, terroir, and winemaking philosophy in every sip, experiencing a Maryland wine moment of my own.
Big Cork Vineyards
If I were to describe Big Cork Vineyards in one phrase, it would be Go big or go home. Owner Randy Thompson assures guests that Big Cork is big on wine, fun, and life – a fantastic place to spend an afternoon with family, friends, and pets. A Virginia turned Maryland winemaker, Dave Collins, continues to be a big deal – a winemaking pioneer and leader – creating a tapestry of wines for everyday drinking and serious collectors. My visit to Big Cork included an introduction to the vineyards, as well as a special, and perhaps more serious tasting of Big Cork’s 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Viognier, 2015 Meritage, 2013 Reserve Malbec, 2014 Nebbiolo, and Black Cap Port, all outstanding examples of Maryland wine. However, I decided to experience Big Cork like a local. I snuck away from my group into their tasting room filled with happy faces, and asked to taste a couple more of their wines, opting for the 2015 Malbec and 2016 Russian Kiss, then made my way to the patio to listen to the day’s music performers. As the singer performed “Landslide”, I was immediately smitten by the unique blend of Muscat and unnamed Russian grape varieties of the Russian Kiss. Aromatic floral notes and sweet tropical fruits enveloped my nose and palate and immediately transported me back to my childhood, when my friends and I would pick honeysuckle flowers and taste their nectar. The Russian Kiss wasn’t just any kiss, but a big kiss of flavor that I will never forget.
Boordy Vineyards is the grande dame of grape growing and winemaking in Maryland. Boordy’s Long Green farm, founded and owned by J. & P. Wagner from 1930-1980, is now owned and operated by the R.B. Deford family since 1980. Boordy has the distinction of being Maryland’s oldest winery, opening in 1945. Third-generation vintner Phineas Deford now leads Boordy in the 21st century and it was he himself that led my tour of Long Green farm, a wonderful juxtaposition of vibrant vineyards, historic buildings, and modern-day winemaking technology. My visit also included a tasting of some of Boordy’s small-production, terroir-driven, Landmark Series wines, whose grapes primarily come from their dry-farmed vineyards at Long Green Valley and South Mountain. A couple of my favorites were the 2016 Albariño and the 2014 Cabernet Franc, both from their South Mountain Vineyard and Maryland Governor’s Cup medal winners. The Albariño is floral and fruity, clean and crisp, with stone and citrus fruits on the palate, the perfect accompaniment to Maryland’s seafood. The Cabernet Franc was darker and spicier than I expected from an East Coast wine. Black fruits and pepper dominated both the nose and palate and I imagined enjoying this wine with a hearty, meaty stew.
After spending three days in Maryland, I came away both impressed and ready to return to taste wines from Maryland’s other 37 wineries (and growing). When planning your visit, keep your mind, palate, and your heart open to the diversity and complexity that is Maryland wine. Taste Maryland and fall in love.