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MARYLAND WINE: Sunshine in a Bottle

By Michael Rhian Driscoll

Marylanders make wine for two reasons. One, they like it; and two, they live here. The following is a partial listing of wineries since the "club" is growing by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to the Maryland Wine Association, or MWA. They really watch out for their members, with moral support as well as a great deal of professional information. (Note: Wineries are classified under NAICS: 31213, [[NAICS_Code1_Title:=Wineries|Wineries]].)

Ray Brasfield of Cygnus Wine Cellars started making wine because he "enjoyed drinking it, and reading about wine and its history. Eventually, this led to studying more about wine making and grape growing. It turned out that making wine was something I was good at."


Don Tilmon of Tilmon's Island Winery, outside Sudlersville on the Eastern Shore calls his winery "a hobby that has gotten out of hand. It's the smallest winery in Maryland. We just make about 1,000 gallons a year, using whatever grapes we can buy on the Eastern shore." The winery’s location was a simple choice, says owner Dan Tilmon, since "we live here."

Of course it helps to have good climate too. Kevin Attucks, executive director of the MWA, says, "all parts of Maryland are suited for growing grapes, albeit very different varieties. In Garrett County, for example, some growers are using grapes developed for cold-climates (like for Minnesota, etc). In southern Maryland, we're using heat-loving varieties originating in Southern Italy."

Wine has been cultivated in Maryland since before the American Revolution, but things really got started in a commercial way when Philip Wagner, a former Baltimore Sun editor, opened Maryland's first bonded winery, Boordy Vineyards in 1945 at his home in Ryderwood.

Since then, some 23 wineries have come into being. They offer 450,000 bottles of wine annually, in 140 varieties ranging from award-winning Chardonnays to Cabernets, as well as French Hybrids and a variety of fruit wines.

One of the newest wineries is the Friday's Creek Winery of Owings, Maryland, in Calvert County , They opened in the summer of 2006 in the midst of a heat wave.

Builder turned vinter Fred Cleary Jr. said the summer's heat wave was something of a mixed blessing. Their "New York hybrids were ready to pick, these are the white wines. Our reds like cooler weather so their sugars can concentrate."

Friday's Creek is a family affair, since long-time farmer now builder Fred Cleary Sr. owns the land where the winery is set up. It’s located in an old tobacco barn, but " the equipment is brand new," says Cleary Jr., with "between 6,000 and 9,000 gallons ready to go." Another brother, Anne Arundel County fireman Richard Cleary is involved. "He really knows more about wine," says Fred Cleary Jr., "I'm more of an administrator."

They also have a consultant, Tom Payette, professionally trained at the University of Maryland, "so whenever Richard has a question that's where he goes."

Boordy, the grande dame of Maryland wines, is situated on a 240-acre farm in the Baltimore countryside, just fifteen minutes north of the Baltimore beltway, in Long Green Valley.

Founders Philip and Jocelyn Wagner operated the Boordy nursery in the 1930's in Ryderwood, and introduced new varieties of French hybrid grapevines throughout the United States. It's not clear where the name comes from, but the most reliable story is that the name comes from the early days, when grapes were imported from Bordeaux. The Wagners' grandson, who loved to go out into the vineyards with his grandfather, pronounced it BOORDY.

Since 1980, Boordy has been owned by the R.B. Deford family, who previously grew grapes for the Wagners during the 1950s.

According to marketing director Susan Rayner, when the Wagners decided to sell out in 1980, they called Rob DeFord, then studying oenology at the University of California, Davis, saying "if you want to buy, you had better get back here." The next year saw Rob's first season in charge of the whole operation, from planting to harvest and bottling.

The operation is located on the Defords' historic 240-acre farm in the Long Green Valley of northeastern Baltimore County. It features rows of carefully tended vines, a cluster of 19th century farm buildings and shaded picnic grounds.

Forty acres of grapes are also cultivated in the Long Green Valley (Central Piedmont region) and in the Catoctin Mountains of western Maryland. Varieties grown include chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, seyval blanc, and vidal blanc.

Boordy's winemaker since 1986 is Tom Burns. Under his management, Boordy has won numerous awards at the International Eastern Wine Competition, the American Wine Society Competition, the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition, and the Maryland Governor's Cup Competition.

Some of Boordy's most popular wines are the Chardonnay from the Long Green Series; Seyval Vidal from the Icons of Maryland; and Jazzberry, a fruit blend, in the Just for Fun series. Boordy currently produces 70,000 gallons of wine annually, which they sell through Churchill Distributors to retails and restaurants throughout Maryland.

An estimated 40,000 visitors visit annually. The Boordy winery's tasting room and wine shop are open year-round. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a picnic on the grounds, take an informative tour of the winery, or attend one of the many special events that are held throughout the year.

One of the most popular events is Good Life Thursday, a combined Farmer's Market and weekly jam session, offering food for both the body and the soul through. During the summer, there are concerts each Saturday when the weather is goodupwards of 2,000 people attend.

The Eastern Shore is the location of some of the newest players on the Maryland Wine stage. As Kent Island-based aerospace contractor and winery owner, Mark Cascia put it, "I like growing things, and I like producing something that other people find pleasurable. I like making something that people will want to talk about, and I like to make a good high quality wine."

His winery and home, located on Kent Island, is the Cascia Winery. They are racking up the inventory but have not yet opened, as of this writing.

Cascia chose the site because "grapes typically do better when there's water nearby. And this is a nice waterfront property so we purchased it. You need well-drained soil, so we looked around and this [place] certainly seems to drain pretty well. It's got a constant slope towards the water."

The winery offers cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and other varieties that can be enjoyed at the winery, and at various wine festivals in the area.

Other Eastern Shore wineries include Little Ashby Wineries, just outside Easton, the newly opened St. Michael's Winery in St. Michael's, and Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton, opening soon.

Asked what makes the Eastern Shore such a good place for wine, Lynn Rich of Little Ashby said it was the elevation of the land which ensures a good drainage. "Grapes dont like too much moisture. Besides, we live here."

The Richs, [Warren and Lynn], both long-term Eastern Shore residents, have operated their winery since 2001. Their wines include "Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Super Talbot, a 2005 Spring Wine, Chardonnay 2005; and Port 2004, made with 100% petite-syrah grapes."

The St. Michael's Winery was founded in May of 2005 by two couples living in Saint Michael's. Their icon is the Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe sailboat which once plied these waters.

Mark and Lori Emon are one half of the team that run things at the Winery. They have two silent partners.

Mark said they were looking for a way to make a living that avoided driving over the Bay Bridge. Besides, "St. Michael's is known for a 50 year plus tradition of good food and wine, except they had no winerybut now they do."

As of this writing, they offer six wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, St. Michaels White (a semi sweet white wine), White Zinfandel, and Gollywobbler, a summer picnic red.

Berry Wine Plantations and Linganore Wines goes its own way in terms of wine. They offer three categories; Grape Wines, Fruit Wines and Specialty Wines, such as Medieval Mead and Tej honey wines, pronounced tedge, this is a traditional honey wine from Ethiopia.

Winemaker Anthony Aellen said that their fruit wines, actually just 20 per cent of the business (120,00 gallons annually overall) , "have been produced since 1978. It's just to offer something different."

It might be said that CygnusWines in Carroll County summarizes all the state's wine in its collection. They make a selection of dry, semi-dry, and sweet table wines, plus some sparkling varieties using grapes from vineyards in Queen Anne's, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Caroline and St. Mary's Counties.

But those aren't the only ones, owner Ray Brasfield said. "I have used juice from New York in emergencies, and I regularly buy grapes from growers in Pennsylvania. I would prefer to use only Maryland fruit, but there isn't enough of it."

Brasfield said, "my most popular wine has always been Manchester Hall, a semi-dry white made from Vidal Blanc. I also use the following grapes; Seval, Chardonnay, Catawba, Chancellor, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Villard Noir.

Solomon's Island Winery , of Lusby, MD, was founded by Ken and Ann Korando in 2002. It's located on 9.3 acres just north of Solomons Island in southern Calvert County, Maryland along Hungerford Creek.

They grow some of their own grapes, supplemented by fruit produced by other growers. Varieties include premium wines like Chardonnay, White Merlot (Rose'), Sauvignon Blanc and Marytage, a Bordeaux Style blended red wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

Also available are four Semi-Sweet wines under the label of Solomons Island Mist; Green Apple Riesling, Mango Symphony, Black Raspberry Merlot and Exotic Fruits White Zinfandel, plus a Dessert Wine-Riesling Icewine.

Maryland wine is made for reasons both simple and complex. They like it, it's a hobby, it's a passion and a career. Some might say the purpose of wine is to capture sunlight in a bottle. So you might say that all it takes is a trip to the store to enjoy summer time here all year long.