As you may have heard by now, Baltimore was host to the annual Drink Local Wine Conference last weekend where food and wine enthusiasts from across the country gathered to learn about Maryland wines. The Maryland Association of Wineries organized the tour and left a lasting impression of Maryland’s promising viticultural future.
Even if you’re not into the wine scene, the strides the industry has made creating new avenues for farmers of bygone crops (like tobacco) and for promoting land preservation are enough to puff out your chest: Maryland is on the cutting edge of locally produced, biologically diverse wines.
Friday kicked off the conference with a bus tour, starting with Sugarloaf Winery in Montgomery County, where co-owner Jim McKenna was among the owners greeting the media with an enthusiastic showing of Sugarloaf’s award winning wines.
Winemaker Benoit Pineau was on hand describing the new batches of Syrah and Cabernet Franc, offering a taste and vote on which blend the expert audience preferred.
Carol Wilson and her son Julian of Elk Run Vineyards were also on hand at Sugarloaf, stunning the crowd with their acclaimed Gerurztraminer. There are few places in these United States that get it right, and according to the governor’s panel of distinctive judges, Elk Run does it well. Elk Run has been awarded over 600 medals internationally for its wines, making the winery a shining star among American wine producers.
Black Ankle Vineyards, nestled in a hillside in Mount Airy, hosted the group for lunch (sponsored by the Maryland Office of Tourism), prepared by none other than Spike Gjerde and the staff of Woodberry Kitchen.
Local flavor was the specialty of the day, with a local oyster appetizer, wheat berry salad with pea shoots and local goat cheese, followed by a lamb chop, lamb sausage and lamb belly confit, served with a side of grilled scallions and potatoes. The meal was finished with a corn cake made with locally grown and milled corn flour and buttermilk ice cream. Each course was accompanied by a suitable Black Ankle wine and wowing our national guests.
Founders and husband and wife team Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron graciously discussed their transition into grape growing and wine making after leaving the corporate world to follow their dream. They researched the industry, learning about grape varietals and soil condition before settling on the rocky, craggily land christened Black Ankle, perfect for growing the most delicious grape varietals. In addition to growing grapes that distinguished them from their competition, they were set on making their winery self-sustainable.
The building is primarily made of clay and timber from their land, straw insulation grown on the farm, rocks and boulders found on their and neighbor’s property. It is definitely worth a day trip, which can include at least five nearby vineyards.
Robert Deford, Owner of Boordy Vineyards led the next tour through his expanding winery.
Robert leads the efforts to keep the Long Green Valley (home to many farms including Boordy, Prigels Creamery, Hybridoma Organic Berry Farm and others) an agricultural haven. He actively lobbies for land conservation, helping others sustain and start farm projects of their own. Boordy revamped its production methods a few years ago, replanting vines closer together to encourage greater grape production and less sprawl. The result is a beautiful, bursting fruit and the evolution of the landmark brand, which is complex enough to cater to a more distinctive palate: Boordy is branching out beyond its famous line of party favorites.
Joining Boordy Vineyards were Fiore Winery (who recently started distilling Limoncello and Grappa) and Cygnus Wine Cellar. Mike and Rose Fiore bring 25 years of wine making to the table to tantalize visitors with fine Italian blends, as well as uniquely designed wines that utilize local fruits like the Blackberry Cabernet or the Pomegranate Zinfandel. Cygnus Wine Cellars produces a line of sparkling wines in addition to their more traditional portfolio. Featuring the American Heritage Grape, Catawba, Cygnus creates an extra dry sparkling rose’ and a great way to celebrate with local flair.
The evening ended appropriately at Waterfront Kitchen, where the Maryland Office of Tourism sponsored dinner, prepared by Chef Jerry Pellegrino. Again, several Maryland wineries stole the show, including Basignani with its Lorenzino Reserve blend and Serpent Ridge with the slightly fizzy Serpent’s Song, and more.
The Event and conference were so successful, it was one of the top trending social media posts last weekend. Check out some of the national media responses:
Read more on Twitter @Drinklocalwine
This weekend offers another opportunity to experience Maryland wines when Decanter comes to Pimlico Race Course, from 12-6, Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, April 21. Experience local food, wine and enjoy a day at the races. For tickets, click here.
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