Friday, April 26, 2013

Touring Wine Country Maryland, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Robert B. Deford, President, at Boordy Winery in Maryland

In connection with the 5th annual Drink Local Wine Conference in Baltimore in Maryland, USA (May 14, 2013), about 40 wine bloggers, columnists and writers toured wine country Maryland. I have reported about it here:  
At the Fifth Annual Drink Local Wine Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Blue crabs (see below) are iconic in Maryland. Few food and wine aficiniados, however, would point to premium wines, when talking about Maryland; instead, Maryland has the reputation of being a mediocre wine producer. But Maryland winemakers are very successfully changing that. Increasingly, winemakers in Maryland are moving away from fruit wines and non-European grape varieties that have long plagued the East Coast to produce wines that can compete with the best wines in the world. As Drew Baker of the brand-new Old Westminster Winery explained to Frank Morgan, a popular wine blogger, “Maryland has great potential and I believe that the quality bar is rising quickly. Soon, poorly made wines will be the exception in an otherwise great region.” Old Westminster Winery, led by the three siblings Drew, Lisa, and Ashli, who manage the vineyard, winemaking, and marketing, respectively, has not yet released any wine, but is already generating a buzz. Other promising newcomers include Black Ankle, Slack, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Port of Leonardtown. Add to that the Maryland classics Boordy, Basignani and Elk Run, which are in the process of changing gears.

Vendredi du Vin #55 : "Le vin contre-pied"

This posting is being published as part of the Vendredis du Vin, a monthly blog event in France. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in France - are all releasing postings today under the same heading. This month's Vendredi du Vin is orchestrated by David Faria from the “le bicéphale buveur”. The subject of this month’s vendredi du vin is: "Le vin contre-pied" - Un vin vous a dérouté, bougé vos certitudes, a pris votre palais à contre-pied...

Picture: Vendredi du Vin

Why a tour of Maryland’s wineries under this heading? Well, most people, even those who live in Maryland, would not expect to be served premium wines when going on a winery tour in Maryland. We visited 3 wineries and in each of them, we were poured premium wines, in one case made by a French winemaker. Thus,  … le vin de Maryland m’ a dérouté, bougé mes certitudes, a pris mone palais à contre-pied...

Wine in the USA

To put this into perspective, the USA has become the 4th largest wine producing country in the world, after France, Italy, and Spain (and the largest wine consuming country in the world). Wine is now produced in all 50 States, with California, Washington State and Oregon leading the way. However, some states outside the Northwest do not grow vitis vinifera grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay easily, and some wineries in the smaller wine-producing states buy juice or grapes from other states. For reviews of wines from all 50 states go here for an excellent Time Magazine article.

Wine in Maryland

Maryland’s modern wine history dates to the 1970s, but grapes have been planted in the area since the 17th century. Most of Maryland’s 60 plus wineries are in the Piedmont Plateau in central Maryland, but grapes also thrive in the Eastern Shore, Southern Plain, and Western Mountains: (1) A majority of the state’ vineyards are planted in Piedmont Plateau in central Maryland. (2) The Chesapeake Bay has always been among my favorite regions, but the Eastern Shore is also a fantastic growing region. The soil is sandy and well-drained, and the climate is moderated/protected by the water, perfect for warm days and cool nights. (3) In the Southern Plain in southern Maryland it can get rather hot. And stay hot during the night. Barbera, Sangiovese, and Chardonnay dominate. (4) Western Maryland is mountainous, and while there are only two wineries, there is a number of vineyards.

Picture: Maryland

Maryland Blue Crabs

Last year in May, wine guru and Maryland resident Robert J. Parker tweeted: “Maryland’s greatest culinary delicacy – blue channel soft-shelled crabs are starting to arrive … lightly floured and sautéed in butter.” Maryland – with the large Chesapeake Bay – is indeed blessed with Blue Crabs which came in different forms, when you eat them at a Crab Shack. Unfortunately, Maryland’s delicious seafood was on the backburner during the conference.

The blue crab is a crustacean found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Coast of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs undergo a seasonal migration; after mating, the female crab travels to the southern portion of the Chesapeake, fertilizing her eggs with sperm stored up from the last mating months or almost a year later. In November or December, the female crab releases her eggs. The crabs hatch in a larval form and float in the mouth of the bay for four to five weeks, then the juvenile crabs make their way back up into the bay.

Four Ways to Eat Chesapeake Blue Crabs

Hard Shell Blue Crabs

Blue crabs are most often eaten in the hard shell. Steaming them in large pots with water, vinegar and seasoning is the norm on the East coast. You need the whole experience: the smell of steamed crabs in the air, a pile of large steamed blue crabs covered with Old Bay Seasoning, ready to be cracked with wooden mallets, accompanied by corn on the cob, plus a roll of paper towels and a metal bucket for tossing the empty shells.

Picture: Hard Shell Blue Crabs

Soft Shell Crabs

The Chesapeake Bay is famous for its soft-shell blue crabs. As crabs grow larger, their shells cannot expand, so they molt the exteriors and have a soft covering for a matter of days when they are vulnerable and considered usable. Crabs caught just after molting are prepared as soft shell crabs: first cutting out the gills, face, and guts; the crab is then battered in flour, egg, and seasoning, then fried in oil until crispy. The entire crab is consumed, legs and all.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller eating Soft Shell Crabs

Crab Cake

Crab cakes is another delicacy. Crab Cakes are basically Hamburgers made out of crab meat. We ate it recently as a starter with tomatoes and avocado on the side.

Picture: Maryland Crab Cake

See more:
Wine and Crab Cakes: Amy Brandwein from Casa Nonna and Chris Clime from PassionFish win the 6th Annual Crab Cake Competition in Washington DC, USA

Maryland Crab Soup

Usually I start my crab dinner with a Maryland Crab Soup. This is a kind of an Italian Minestrone with crab meat.

Pictures: Annette Schiller, Ombiasy PR and Wine Tours, eating Maryland Crab Soup

See more:
Maryland Crabs and Wine
Schiller's World of Seafood

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard

We began our tour by visiting Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard is only a 45 minute drive from Washington, DC. The 92-acre farm abuts the scenic Sugarloaf Mountain conservation and recreation area. The winery is easily identifiable by its signature red barn, silo and windmill, built in the early 1900s.

Pictures: Sugar Loaf Mountain Vineyard

Purchased by Dan and Polly O'Donoghue in 1962, the farm has been a working farm and family retreat ever since. Today, it is owned and operated by their four children – the McGarry, McKenna and two O’Donoghue families. The transformation from a traditional farm to a vineyard broke ground in 2002. A wine making team was formed, and soon vines were planted and being nurtured. By 2005, the winery was complete and Sugar Loaf Mountain was making its first vintage.

Pictures: Dave McIntyre from the Washington Post and Michael McKenna and Michael McGarry, both Co-owners of Sugar Loaf Mountain Vineyard

In 2011, Benoit Pineau took over the wine-making responsibilities. He hails from France and has been educated in oenology and viticulture in Bordeaux and Toulouse. As of January, 2013 Manolo Gomez has become the official winemaker, with Benoit Pineau the consultant winemaker.

Sugar Loaf Mountain Vineyard specializes in Bordeaux style wines. They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot; and three white varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier.

The Wines we tasted:

2011 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Pinot Grigio, $19

100% Pinot Grigio which was aged for 6 months in stainless steel.  Alcohol 13.0%.

2011 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Circe, $24

This wine is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, and 7% Merlot which was aged 5 months in 20% new French oak.  Alcohol 12.5%.

2011 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Comus $26

This wine is a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec which was aged 12 months in 25% French oak. Alcohol 13.0%

2010 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Evoe! $39

This wine is a blend of 51% Cabernet Franc, 22% Petit Verdot, 16% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon which was aged 24 months in 25% new French oak. Alcohol 14.5%.

Black Ankle Vineyards

The second stop was Black Ankle Vineyards. We were visiting Black Ankle Vineyards to both taste wine and to eat lunch catered by the Woodberry Kitchen of Baltimore, a restaurant devoted to eating and drinking local. I will prepare a separate posting about the lunch.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Owners Sarah O’Herron and Ed Boyce, Black Ankle Vineyard

Owners Sarah O’Herron and Ed Boyce (both former management consultants) planted their first vines in 2003 after a lengthy search looking for farms with the worst soil. They succeeded, buying a 142-acre farm on Black Ankle Road in the rolling hills of Carroll County near Mt. Airy.

Black Ankle sets the new standard for what is going on in Maryland wine. Black Ankle has won numerous awards for their wines, including recent Maryland Governor’s Cup Awards.

Ed and Sarah explained that the meager 1 1/2 feet of soil is 60 percent rock with a solid layer of rock below. Although this soil environment would be a nightmare for a farmer planting traditional agricultural crops, it proved perfect for their vision of a world-class vineyard growing vinifera grapes.

Currently, Black Ankle has 42 producing acres. Since Ed and Sarah purchased the property, they have made and applied compost in place of chemical fertilizers and they have never used herbicides of any kind. “Although we are not yet able to farm 100% organically, we are optimistic that with more research and ingenuity we will get there before too long,” say Ed and Sarah. “We have also made the decision to farm with the principles of Biodynamics. Black Ankle’s barrel room holds 300 French oak barrels. It is constructed with hay-bale walls coated with a plaster made from the farm’s earth and wood harvested from their acreage.

The business has been a bit of a juggling act for Ed and Sarah, who have kept their house in Silver Spring and, except at harvest time, alternate days at Black Ankle with working from home. They have five children, one in college and four at home.

The Wines that were poured:

2012 Black Ankle Vineyards, Gruner Veltliner – (Barrel Sample)

2011 Black Ankle Vineyards, Bedlam

This wine is a blend of Albarino, Viognier, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, and Muscat.

2010 Black Ankle Vineyards, Rollings Hills

This wine is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 8% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot which was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. Alcohol 13.6%.

2010 Black Ankle Vineyards, Leaf Stone Syrah

This wine is 100% Syrah which was aged for 18 months in 65% new French oak.  Alcohol 14.6%.

NV Black Ankle Vineyards, Terra Dulce II

A fortified wine.

Boordy Vineyards

The tour concluded with a visit and tasting at Boordy Vineyards, which is the oldest commercial winery in Maryland. Boordy was founded in 1945 by Philip and Jocelyn Wagner. The Wagner’s enthusiasm for experimentation and the winery’s rapid growth eventually lead to a partnership with the Deford family who purchased  Boordy in 1980. The Defords moved the winery to its present day location at their Long Green Valley farm, just north of Baltimore. The farm has since been placed in permanent preservation with the Maryland Environmental Trust, demonstrating owner Rob’s commitment to agriculture.

Pictures: Boordy Vineyards, Maryland

The winery is currently housed in the ground-floor level of a 19th century barn. Next to the barn a new similarly sized building is going up.  The new building will become the home of the winery.  As it is purpose-built, future wines will see more gravity and less pumps along with being raised with more accurate temperature control.  The original barn will become a barrel cellar.

Boordy produces three tiers of wines: Just for Fun, Icons of Maryland and the Landmark series.  The Landmark series is the very best of each vintage year; the Icons of Maryland are designed with food in mind; and the Just for Fun series offers sweet, party wines.

We only tasted Landmark wines. These wines are produced from 100% Maryland fruit of which 95% is estate fruit.  The Landmark Project was begun in 2006. It follows the guidance of viticulturist Lucie Morton which initiated a complete replanting of the vineyards.  The vineyards were replanted with closer spacing, 1 meter by 8 feet, averaging 1500 vines per acre for all 45 acres.

The Wines we tasted:

2010 Boordy Vineyards, Landmark, Cabernet Franc Reserve – $25

This wine was aged for 18 months in French oak.

2010 Boordy Vineyards, Landmark Reserve – $35

This wine is a blend of 69% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Petit Verdot which were fermented separately. It was aged for 24 months in French oak.

2010 Boordy Vineyards, Landmark, Merlot Reserve

schiller-wine: Related Postings

At the Fifth Annual Drink Local Wine Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, USA 

Wine and Crab Cakes: Amy Brandwein from Casa Nonna and Chris Clime from PassionFish win the 6th Annual Crab Cake Competition in Washington DC, USA

Maryland Crabs and Wine

Schiller's World of Seafood

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the things I want to do when I have the time and resources to do so. Touring the wine country sounds like an amazing way to spend a vacation. Maybe I can nudge my friends to go touring next year. When’s a great time to go touring, or can you do it any time of the year?

    Corey Glenn