Vintner Mowbray Gives Up The Grapes

October 20, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

SILVER RUN — G. Hamilton Mowbray pressed no grapes this year.

"It was a great relief," he said, standing in his wine cellar surveying wooden barrels filled with sweet and dry, red and white wines from past vintages.

Mowbray has been trying to sell Montbray Wine Cellars Ltd. on Silver Run Valley Road for several years. This year, he grew grapes but sold them to other wineries.

He's hired a broker to try to sell the business he founded in 1964.

C. Webster Abbott, of Abbott Associates Inc. in Towson, said a number of investors have shown interest. Advertisements in The Sun last weekend generated five calls, he said.

The winery, its inventory, equipment and 5.25 acres of land are for sale at $250,000, Abbott said.

Mowbray and his wife, Phyllis, both 69, are ready to give up the business.

Phyllis, who retired in1980 after 15 years with the Carroll County public library, enjoys spending time with her first grandchild, born in June.

"Ham" wants to devote more of his time to writing about wine and would like to spend time in France.

He retired in 1973 as a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Pruning vines, harvesting grapes, making wine,bottling and selling it, and keeping records is demanding, year-round work, Phyllis said.

"It's been a very interesting and rewarding life," she said. "We've enjoyed it no end and have met lots of peoplewho have become our friends.

"There's nothing negative about it, except it's such hard work. And after 25 to 30 years, you decide it'snot what you want to do anymore," she said.

"It won't be hard to give up all the physical work," Ham Mowbray said.

Next month, Mowbray will be honored by the American Wine Society at its annual conference in Richmond, Va.

He will be recognized for his contributions to the society's quarterly journal, said Angel E. Nardone, the society's executive director.

The award will honor Mowbray "for his distinguished journalistic service to American Wine Society publications which have benefited infinitely from his dedication, humor, experience and wisdom," she said.

Ham writes a column called "Mowbray on Wine."

The non-profit, educational organization based in Rochester, N.Y., has 3,800 members, she said.

He also will speak at the conference on "The Most Successful Marriage of All: Food and Wine."

Thewinery and Mowbray have had their share of accolades over the years.Montbray is the second-oldest winery in Maryland and the oldest in the state to be continuously operated in one place.

It also was thefirst commercial winery to grow classic European grapes successfullyin the mid-Atlantic region. It made the region's first Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which were critically praised.

Montbray is one of four wineries in Carroll and 11 in Maryland.

In June, a deal to sell the winery to David Argento, a county resident who put together a group of investors, fell through, Mowbray said.

"We don't have the one pivotal person who will put the money in and hang over the top to see if it's being run properly," Abbott said.

"The wine industry is very complex. It's an art as much as a science," he added.

Montbray's inventory is 6,000 gallons, or 30,000 bottles, Mowbray said. Last year, he made about 850 gallons; his production in normal years was 6,000 to 7,000 gallons, he said.

He would like to sell the business but would be willing to lease it with anoption to buy, he said.

"I'm willing to stay on as a consultant,"he said.

Mowbray has started an autobiography about his start in the wine business and his experiences over the years. He said he doesn't have a working title but has finished some sections.

"It started as a hobby that got out of hand," he said.

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