This Fall, the Maryland Wine Scene Gets Serious About Fun

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Rows of grapevines at The Vineyards at Dodon
Rows of grapevines at The Vineyards at Dodon

There’s no question that winemakers take their job seriously; the creation of good wine is both science and art. It’s not an easy job.

As local winemakers gear up for this year’s harvest, though, they are also embracing the lighter side of the industry. From fun events to experimenting with what’s in the glass, there’s a lot of fun activity in Maryland’s wine world right now. Here’s a look at  how three local wineries are working hard to keep their focus on fun:

Sweet & Versatile at Boordy

The Deford family, the proprietors of Boordy Vineyards, knows how to have a good time. The family has been making wine in Maryland for decades and in recent years, the vineyard has become a popular spot for events; there’s nothing quite like a farmers’ market or live band on a beautiful early fall night at Boordy.

Though Boordy is one of the oldest names in Maryland wine, the vineyard is not resting on its laurels. Over the past several years, the proprietors, the Deford family, have made quite a few changes, including installing a state-of-the-art onsite winemaking facility and introducing a new wine brand, Sweetland Cellars.

The Sweetland Cellars wines are, as the name suggests, sweeter than traditional table wines. They’re made with grapes infused with citrus and spices and sometimes combined with other fruits and they are designed to be drunk alone or as part of a cocktail. Either way, they’re fun to drink.

Though Sweetland Cellars wines are all about fun, the Deford family takes their creation very seriously. Their winemaking facility, which was put into use in 2013, includes high tech tanks with temperature controls that can be adjusted remotely, using an iPhone or computer.

“Especially when you’re making wines like this, that have some residual sweetness, with a high level of sugar, as they ferment, you want to be able to stop the fermentation,” explains Phineas Deford, one of the winery’s owners. “Having that level of temperature control is very important.”

The wines’ unusual flavor combinations, like “Tango Peach” and “Zinberry,” are created by mixing grapes and other fruits and by infusing the liquid in the tanks with other flavors.

“We put spices and fruit peels in the tank and let it infuse. There are no artificial flavors at all,” says Rob Deford, president of Boordy (and Phineas’s father). “When we bottle it, we use a process called ‘cold sterile bottling,’ where we bottle a sweet wine without any chemical preservatives. This means we have to have an immaculate bottling facility. That’s the difference between a really lovely, fruity, aromatic, exquisite beverage and one that is the cheapest bang for the buck. We put as much energy and care into making these wines as we do our fine red dinner wines. They take a lot of craftsmanship.”

The Defords are serious about how their wines are made, but they don’t get caught up in that. “The wines are a lot of fun to drink,” says Rob Deford. And that’s what it’s all about.

Boordy Vineyard, 12820 Long Green Pike, Hydes; 410-592-5015; www.boordy.com; Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Community Spirit & Sparkle at Old Westminster

Old Westminster Winery is a relative newcomer to the Maryland wine scene. The winery’s proprietors, the Baker family, planted their first vines in the spring of 2011 and bottled their first wines in 2013. Last fall, they opened a tasting room. And since then, they have not stopped entertaining.

Old Westminster wines represent Maryland on some of the best wine lists in Baltimore. It’s easy to pop over to Parts & Labor, which has two Old Westminster wines on tap, or to order a bottle to complement your meal at La Cuchara. But to truly understand what makes Old Westminster special, you have to head to the winery itself, for one of their events.

Ashli Johnson, the youngest of the three Baker siblings, says the events help people connect not just with their wine, but with the region as a whole. “We love to host events at the far. My goal is to always create wine-centered experiences that connect people with delicious Maryland wine, local farmers and restaurants.”

This Friday, September 16, Old Westminster is partnering with Well Crafted Pizza. The pizza truck will be making seasonally-driven pizzas and the winery will be pouring their newly released sparkling Gruner Vetliner.

Sparkling wines – including an Albarino, a Syrah and, new this year, a Cabernet Franc – are one of Old Westminster’s specialties. “We are really excited about this vintage,” says Johnson. “2016 has been a fantastic growing season. We are optimistic about producing some really noteworthy wines – particularly sparkling wines.”

Old Westminster Winery, 1550 Old Westminster Road, Westminster; 410-881-4656; www.oldwestminster.com; Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Experimental Rose at The Vineyards at Dodon

For nearly 300 years, the Steuart/Pittman family has been farming Dodon, a 550-acre swath of land in Davidsonville. During that time, the land has seen a number of uses, from tobacco to horses and livestock.

Since 2010, it has also been home to grapevines; today, over 26,000 vines are planted on 15 acres in the northeastern corner of the farm. The Vineyards at Dodon bottled its first vintage in 2011 and, in the years since, the wines have made their way onto lists throughout Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

In early September of this year, as the team at Dodon geared up for the harvest season, they did something unusual: they started harvesting their two-year old Merlot vines about a month early.

“We normally wouldn’t harvest our Merlot until October,” says Regina McCarthy, Director of Client Services at The Vineyards at Dodon. But this year, she explains, the winemaking team discovered something unusual, which lead them to change their approach.

“This year, our two-year old Merlot vines, also known as vines in their ‘second leaf,’ have started to produce lovely small clusters of berries. We are going to use these young grapes for a rose. We are going with a traditional French method of harvesting early and pressing the grapes as whole clusters.”

At Dodon, rose is typically made using the “saignee” process, which involves bleeding some of the juice from mature red grapes. That juice becomes rose and the rest of the juice in the grapes becomes a more intense red wine.

“This early harvest method will be new for us. It’s almost like a once in a grapevine’s life type of opportunity at Dodon,” says McCarthy. “There are so many ways to make rose and to harvest it while it is still rose drinking season is quite fun.”

Those grapes were harvested earlier this month and will be bottled and released next spring. “We expect this wine to have great acid, more freshness and fruit character and less phenolics,” says McCarthy.

Not to mention, a great backstory.

The Vineyards at Dodon, 391 Dodon Road, Davidsonville; 410-798-1126; www.dodonvineyards.com; tastings and tours by appointment



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