A toast to Maryland's fruitful vineyards

UP FRONT

Festivals: From Baltimore County to Garrett County, Maryland's wineries welcome the curious and the connoisseur.

May 20, 1999|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The grape blossoms aren't quite ready to burst into full bloom -- it will take another week or two before their intoxicating fragrance permeates the vineyards. Instead, the scents of rosemary and lavender, basil and thyme will waft through the air Sunday afternoon at Boordy's in Long Green Valley.

Add dancing, winery tours, grilled food, crafts, lectures, vineyard wagon rides and kite flying through rolling green pastures and you have the perfect ingredients for a family festival at a Maryland winery.

If you prefer to travel to the gently sloping foothills of Western Maryland, then let Linganore Winecellars at Berrywine Plantations in Mount Airy entice you this weekend to a Strawberry Wine Festival with live country and bluegrass music, smoked ribs with all the fixings, great crafts and, of course, strawberry wine and winery tours.

The festival season is in full swing at Maryland's 10 vineyards, and from now until harvest time in October and beyond, each winery welcomes visitors to witness the timeless art of winemaking, tour the cellars, sample the wines, stroll through the vineyards and enjoy other activities.

Aimee and Stephen Cornbrooks, of Fallston, are looking forward to taking their two young children to Sunday's Herb and Wine Festival at Boordy Vineyards on Long Green Pike in northeastern Baltimore County. A stroll among the grape vines has become a favorite family outing for the Cornbrookses.

"We've attended many events at Boordy's over the past couple of years, it's such a friendly place -- like visiting relatives in the country. The children enjoy petting the dogs running around the farm and watching kite-flying demonstrations. And we enjoy sampling fine wines," says Mrs. Cornbrooks. Although the winery is only a short ride from her home, once she turns into the lane leading to the vineyards and the winery in a 19th century wood and fieldstone barn, she feels transported to a faraway place.

"It's idyllic and charming," she says. "I've been to California wineries and they are very educational and nice, but they lack the relaxed and homey atmosphere of a Maryland winery. There you are a tourist, here you are made to feel like you are part of the family."

Robert Deford, owner of Boordy Vineyards, says constant hospitality with emphasis on family is his goal in running the family-owned wine business.

"I always tell people they don't need to travel to California to tour a winery, we have everything right here -- not only the climate, soil and talent to grow good grapes and make good wine, but also the history."

Boordy Vineyards, the oldest winery in Maryland, was established in 1945 by Philip and Jocelyn Wagner, who pioneered the use of French-American hybrid grapevines in the Eastern United States. The bill for the import of the first 25 plants from France hangs on a wall of the winery, along with other memorabilia telling Boordy's history.

The Defords bought Boordy in 1980 and relocated the winery to the 250-acre family beef cattle farm in Long Green Valley. Over the years, Deford, who received formal training in enology at the University of California, expanded the vineyards and introduced state-of-the-art winemaking techniques. In addition to the 16 acres of grapevines he tends on his vineyard, Deford also grows grapes in the Blue Ridge country in Western Maryland and purchases grapes grown on the Eastern Shore.

He explains that the sandy soil on the Eastern Shore is ideal for merlot grapes and other cold-tender varieties. Seyval Blanc and chardonnay strive on the fertile soil of the central region, while cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet Franc prefer the shaly soil in Western Maryland.

Millions of grapevines are cultivated throughout Maryland today.

"But that's still not enough," says Al Copp, owner of Woodhall Vineyards & Wine Cellars in Parkton and president of the Association of Maryland Wineries. "The demand is high, but we only have enough Maryland grapes for about half the wine we produce. The rest come from out of state."

Maryland wineries produce some 400,000 bottles of wine annually with sales exceeding $3 million. "There's significant potential for growth," says Copp, adding the association is wooing new vintners to make winegrowing a more viable part of the state's agricultural business.

Deford says that he has seen a growing appreciation for fine local wines but that not everyone realizes yet that many of the wine bottles on store shelves have deep roots in Maryland soil.

"The industry is still a little shaky; we readily associate Maryland with beer and crabs, but we need to improve awareness of Maryland's fine wines," he explains.

And what better way than festivals with dancing, summer concerts under the stars and good food and wine to get the message across?

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