The summer of 2002 caused widespread casualties across Maryland farmlands. The hot, dry weather parched cornfields, desiccated apple orchards and caused severe crop damage throughout the Eastern United States -- but it did grow a very good grape.
"In 2002 it didn't rain, it was hot and dry over the summer, and we knew at the end of that vintage that we were going to make a good wine," said Rob Deford, the owner of Boordy Vineyards.
Deford's premonition was validated recently with the announcement of the Governor's Cup winners at the Maryland Wine Festival, where Boordy received two gold medals for its 2002 Barrel Select Chardonnay and 2002 Vidal. In addition, the chardonnay and the vidal were named the best dry white and semisweet wines of the festival, respectively.
The Governor's Cup is an annual competition of Maryland's wineries and vineyards. This year nine judges met in August at Corks restaurant in Baltimore to taste more than 90 wines from the 12 members of the Association of Maryland Wineries. They awarded points based on aroma, taste, aftertaste and overall quality. The award winners were divided into gold, silver and bronze medalists and for the first time, the association presented "best of" awards -- those included dry white, dessert, fruit, semisweet, and specialty. Basignani Winery in Sparks won the Governor's Cup and best dry red wine for its 1999 Lorenzino Reserve.
Boordy had not received a gold medal at the Governor's Cup until this year, although Deford has spent several years experimenting with his wines. Grape-growing is an imperfect science: It takes at least 10 years before a winery can determine whether a certain species of grape will adapt to the climate and soil, producing the right fruit.
In order to make the chardonnay, Deford uses grapes from the vineyard in Hydes and another vineyard Boordy owns in Burkittsville. He then ages the wine in oak -- French, not American -- and stainless steel barrels. He says Boordy's delicate use of oak is one of the keys to the chardonnay's success.
"If you age it all in oak barrels, it tastes like a finely cut piece of wood instead of a chardonnay," Deford said.
Kevin Atticks, managing director of the Association of Maryland Wineries, called Boordy's chardonnay "a California-comparable barrel select.
"For years they've tried to make a top-notch chardonnay, and they did it this year," he said.
The vidal, which scored higher than the chardonnay at the Governor's Cup competition, has quietly become one of Boordy's most popular wines in the past few years. At $9 a bottle, it was also one of the more affordable bottles in the competition. Boordy also had five wines win silver medals, and two won bronze.
Fiore Winery, the only Harford County delegate in the association, saw its 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon achieve gold at the Governor's Cup. Mike Fiore, owner and vintner of Fiore Winery, has been placing well in statewide, national and international competitions since the 1990s. In fact, Fiore often receives more accolades outside of the state than in it.
Fiore, who emigrated from Calabria, Italy, where his family owns a vineyard, makes wines in the Italian tradition -- a tradition that he believes has garnered more respect in the United States recently. This week, Fiore is furnishing 250 bottles of wines for a presidential dinner.
Fiore and his wife, Rose, who manages the winery, say they don't put too much stock in the yearly awards. But around the corner from the office in the salesroom is a prominently displayed corkboard full of medals from international competitions. The Governor's Cup medals line the wine bar's overhang. Fiore won the Governor's Cup in 1993.
"You have to be part of the competition to support the Maryland wine industry," he said.
Like last year, 1999 was a good year for growing grapes, and Fiore has gotten much recognition for his red wines of that vintage. His 1999 cabernet sauvignon won a gold medal at the International Eastern Wine Competition this year.
Atticks said that the cabernet sauvignon "just explodes in your mouth. Mike Fiore prides himself on his red wines. They are the lifeblood of his winery. And his cabernet sauvignon is one of the best in the state."
All 12 Fiore wines entered into the Governor's Cup won medals, with five bronzes, six silvers and a gold. His 2002 Vidal Blanc, which was best in its class at the San Diego National Wine Competition, took one of the silver medals.
While Boordy Vineyards and Fiore Winery produce distinctive wines, both Deford and Fiore agree on one item: price.
Fiore points to the $16 list price next to his gold medal finish and then scans through the wines that finished beneath him. Many charge well over $40 a bottle. "The American public is convinced that a wine has to be expensive to be good," Fiore said, shaking his head.