State's wineries toast the drought

Grapes: They are smaller in dry years, but also sweeter, and can result in prize-winning wine.

July 27, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

It's a great year for Maryland wineries.

While grain farmers bemoan the damage to their corn and soybean crops from the prolonged drought, grape growers and winemakers are celebrating.

"Dry weather, like this year, produces smaller grapes, but the flavor is more concentrated, they are sweeter and they make a better wine," said Rose Fiore, secretary and treasurer of Fiore Winery, near Pylesville in northern Harford County.

"We will get less wine this year," she said, "but it will be a better quality."

The state's small wine industry is getting its fair share of awards for quality in international competition. Fiore said his winery's red wines, including its cabernet sauvignon, won eight medals during international competitions last year. During two competitions this year - the Riverside International Wine Competition and the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition - Fiore's reds picked up five more medals.

"We're not alone," said Fiore. "A lot of other Maryland wineries are winning international competition."

What the industry wants now is more recognition at home.

With a helping hand from the state Department of Agriculture, the industry is seeking to address that.

The state has awarded the Association of Maryland Wineries a $50,000 grant to promote state wines by encouraging consumers to ask for the local product. The association is putting in $1 for every $2 from the state to help pay for a $75,000 advertising campaign.

"The thought was that by promoting the quality and the availability of local wineries, we could help them increase their market share with consumers and retailers," said Jane Storrs, administrator of national marketing with the state Department of Agriculture.

She said a healthy wine industry would encourage more grape growing in the state, perhaps providing an alternative to growing tobacco. She estimates that the state has about 250 grape growers.

"We can do a lot more by working together," said Rob Deford, owner of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes and president of the Association of Maryland Wineries. "Through a cooperative effort, we can promote the industry and lobby the General Assembly for legislative change."

Legislation passed this year makes it legal for consumers to buy out-of-state wines and have them shipped to Maryland.

"We are hoping that in the future this legislation will open doors to allow us to ship our wines to other states," Deford said.

Maryland wineries are prohibited from selling in other states unless they have wholesale distributors in the state in which they are seeking to sell.

Deford said Maryland has 12 wineries ranging in production from 1,,000 gallons a year to about 40,000 gallons. Industry sales totaled about $4.5 million last year, up from about $3 million in 2000.

He said the small industry is seeking to establish itself as a producer of premium wines that reflect the flavor of the region.

"We're aiming for quality, not quantity," he said.

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