I must admit — I am a bit embarrassed. I have lived in Maryland for almost 20 years and it never occurred to me to check out the Maryland wine scene. Why? I have no idea. It’s a shame really; Maryland has such a rich history of winemaking in the state and it’s literally in my backyard.
According to the Maryland Wineries Association — whose executive director Dr. Kevin Atticks recently appeared on The Vine Guy podcast — the earliest recorded winemaking event in Maryland dates back to 1648, followed by Governor Charles Calvert, who planted the first European grapes on 200 acres on the east bank of St. Mary’s River in 1662.
Modern winemaking in the state didn’t start until 1933 when Philip Wagner, a columnist with the Baltimore Sun, published American Wines and How to Make Them, based on his own vineyard experience. It was later revised and retitled Grapes Into Wine, and became the definitive book on winemaking in America. However, it wasn’t until 1945 that Philip Wagner started the first commercial winery, Boordy Vineyards.
Today, the state boasts just about 100 wineries, and since there are so many unique vineyards sites with different soil composition and micro-climates, winemakers are experimenting with over 200 wine varieties — everything from Albariño to Zweigelt — to see what works.
In addition to the vast number of grape varieties, growers are experimenting with different farming practices, including organic and biodynamic practices. And winemakers are using various winemaking methods that range from traditional wines produced in stainless steel and oak barrels to “natural” wines made in clay amphora.
While every state now produces some version of wine, Maryland prides itself on having a wine philosophy that provides a sense of local culture that is best explored along the Maryland Wine Trail, a self-guided tour where consumers can visit several wineries of their choice. It’s a relaxing way to visit a Maryland wineries, meet the winemakers and see how their wines get from grape to bottle. You can spend a day or longer in wine country exploring picturesque vineyards, or simply enjoy a leisurely escape among the rolling hills and beautiful vineyards.
Of course, with the current health environment being what it is, it would be prudent to call ahead or visit the websites of wineries of interest to learn what their current policy is regarding physical distancing and hours of operation.
Here are a few wines that Kevin Atticks tasted on the podcast:
Albariño is a Spanish variety well suited to Maryland’s climate. The 2018 Boordy Vineyards Albariño is produced from fruit grown on a southeast facing hillside at Broordy’s South Mountain Vineyard in Frederick County, and produces a wine that is “sunshine in a bottle.” The result is a deliciously dry white wine full of white peach and floral flavors underscored by a streak of mouthwatering salinity. $20
According to Dr. Atticks, Syrah is a grape that is under much scrutiny in the state since it is susceptible to frost, disease and rot. But in the hands of winemaker Mike Lentini, the 2017 Catoctin Breeze Vineyard Estate Syrah thrives. The vineyard is located just north of Frederick. This is a medium-bodied Syrah that features of flavors cherry, plums, and raspberry fruit. The finish is accented by “precision white pepper.” Medium tannins allow the bright fruit to be the star in the glass. $40
Fourth generation winemaker Mike Fiore likes to boast that he has been making wines for over 250 years! His 2014 Fiore Winery & Distillery Sangiovese is a nod to his former homeland of Italy, where his father, grandfather and great grandfather all made wine. His Maryland version is very smooth, supple and well-balanced, with flavors of cherry, blackberry, strawberry and a hint of fig cherry. This is a very versatile wine with food with bright acidity and light tannins that add some grip on the palate and through the finish. $20
If Maryland crab cakes are your thing, then you’re definitely going to want to find a bottle of 2017 The Vineyards at Dodon Drum Point Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay Blend. Drum Point is named for a “ghost railroad” that was never completed back in the late 1800’s. But this wine, an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, is definitely complete. According to Kevin, the two varities play off of each other and produce a wine where the “sum is greater than its parts.” A stunningly gorgeous wine with a huge mouthfeel with new world flavors of ripe orchard and tropical fruit, white flowers and lemon curd highlighted by a creamy texture and striking minerality. $39
You can listen to the entire podcast interview with Kevin Atticks on PodcastOne to get a better sense of the wine scene in Maryland. It just might inspire you to take a “tasteful” hike on the Maryland Wine Trail.
Listen and subscribe to the “The Vine Guy” podcast on Podcast One