Montbray Runs Dry

November 20, 1992

There was a notable absence at this year's Maryland Wine Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum: Montbray Wine Cellars of Westminster and its founder, Dr. G. Hamilton Mowbray, weren't present.

After several years of trying to sell his winery to a white knight, the grand old man of Maryland's struggling wine industry did not renew his state license this year.

Dr. Mowbray, a former Johns Hopkins University psychologist who began the winery in 1966, did not press any grapes last year. This year, another winemaker rented his Westminster land to produce grapes. Without the license, though, Montbray's remaining stock of long-lived seyval blanc wines will remain unsold.

Despite national recognition among his peers -- he was the first to grow the classic European vines in this region -- and his edifying columns written for wine journals, Dr. Mowbray could no longer maintain the operation.

Oenophiles with dreams of rescuing the business found the required work and the economic demands too daunting. Intensive labor is quintessential for successful wineries, as is a continued willingness to fight the economic odds.

Another Carroll winemaker, White Marsh, folded last year. Byrd Wine Cellars in Frederick County is selling some land for development to help finance its wine and viticulture operations.

The outlook is not all gloomy, however. Some producers see a cautious turnaround, as Maryland wines win over more local consumers. Several wineries bought more grapes from other vineyards this year, to expand their output, and have moved beyond the financial break-even point.

Maryland wineries have grown in reputation and numbers over the years since former Sun editor Philip Wagner started Boordy vineyards in Riderwood in 1945. The annual state wine festival in Carroll County has cultivated the popularity of the local grape; some of the dozen Maryland wineries sell more than half their produce at the two-day festival, enabling them to survive.

Wine-making remains essentially a hard labor of love, the chief reward in the acclaim of colleagues and loyal patrons.

After a quarter-century of toiling in his vineyards, Dr. Mowbray, at age 70, has well earned his retirement, to enjoy the toasts of grateful connoisseurs of his vinous delights.

And we earnestly add: To your health!

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