Sure, Virginia wine may garner a lot of the noise, but don't ignore what’s produced by our neighbors to the north. Maryland wineries are getting noticed with experimental wines (pet-nat Albariño anyone?), award-winning international varietals, and an effortless hospitality that makes anyone from budding newbies to rabid oenophiles feel welcome. As the state slogan used to say, wine fans will find “more than you can imagine” in the Free State.
Run by siblings of the Baker family--Drew, Lisa and Ashli--along with their parents Jay and Virginia, this winery in Westminster stands by four guiding principles. From winter pruning to summer hedging to harvesting, everything is done by hand. All grapes used in their wines are grown in Maryland, either their 10,000 estate vines or neighboring vineyards. “Our multi-vineyard, Maryland-grown approach allows us to craft wines that reflect our region’s diverse geologies and variable climate,” Drew says. Farming is sustainable and done with a light hand to protect and preserve the terroir. Finally, the goal is to produce balanced wines that reflect the vineyard and the vintage. “Our winemaker, Lisa [Baker] Hinton, achieves this by timeliness and attention to detail,” Drew says. “Hand-sorting single berries as they run across the sorting table, using gravity rather than pumps to transfer must and fermenting with indigenous yeast are practices we embrace.”
Key wines to try: 2014 Home Vineyard Chardonnay, fermented with native yeast in both stainless steel and French oak; 2013 Channery Hill, a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon that’s crafted with minimal intervention and aged in French oak barrels for eighteen months.
Fun / funky offerings: Pét-Nat, a style of sparkling wine first made in France’s Loire Valley five hundred years ago that gets its bubbles from naturally occurring fermentation in the bottle, has recently become a focus, using Cabernet Franc and Albariño (lauded wine writer Jon Bonne just called theirs one of his favorites in America.) “Unlike its showy cousin, Champagne, which is precise and calculated, pét-nat is wild and spontaneous--that’s why we love it,” says Drew. “And it’s a perfect fit for the East Coast where the weather can be inconsistent; less ripeness is an asset with pét-nat; bright, refreshing bubbles with bracing acidity.we’re all in on pét-nat.”
Visitor experience: “We're passionate about building an exceptional, wine-centered environment by sharing the stories of our wines, connecting visitors with their local farmers and making sure everyone leaves with a smile.”
Tours / tastings: $10 for a tasting of 5 wines.
Co-owner Rob Deford says the philosophy of his winery in Hydes is simple: to make great wine. "Everything we do supports this goal, from vineyards site selection, choice of varietals to plant, how we manage our vines, the protocols we follow in the winery and whom we choose to be part of our staff." Respect for the land and the terroir is key, and viticulture practices always keep in mind sustainability and preservation at this long family-owned business. "Growing and making wine is our life and our pleasure, and has led to an optimism that extends beyond the culture of wine, to our community and the world at large."
Key wines to try: Crisp, clean, stainless steel aged Chesapeake Icons Chardonnay (it won the Gold Medal at the 2016 Maryland Governor’s Cup; the cassis- and cigar box-tinged 2013 Landmark Series Cabernet Franc; 2012 Landmark Series Reserve, a complex and intense blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown at their South Mountain Vineyards. ?
Fun / funky offerings: 2015 saw the first vintage of Albariño, a white varietal generally grown in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain that’s also suited to Maryland’s climate; full of floral and peach notes and vibrant acidity, it went on to win top honors at the Maryland Governor's Cup Wine Competition. A smattering of plantings of Muscat Blanc and Petit Manseng are also joined by clonal and rootstock trials of more common varietals including Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
Visitor experience: "We want visitors to be impressed by the quality of our wines and by our warm hospitality."?
Tours / tastings: $5 for Traditional, $15 for Landmark, both include an engraved wine glass. Public tours are at 3 PM Monday through Friday, and 2 PM and 3:30 PM Saturday and Sunday.
Co-owners (along with their five children) Sarah O'Herron and Edward Boyce of this Mt. Airy winery say they “believe that a prime vineyards site marked by rolling hillsides and rocky soils, combined with meticulous care of our vines and land, will yield grapes that make wines of depth, nuance and character." Media contact Melissa Schulte says the 2016 vintage is going to be amazing, and the tasting room will be open through Christmas, allowing visitors to taste the wines, nosh on local cheeses and relax a bit before the hectic holiday season begins.
Key wines to try: 2015 Quartzite, a blend of 43% Grüner Veltliner, 28% Chardonnay, 15% Albariño, 10% Muscat and 4% Viognier with minerality, notes of stone fruit and great acidity; 2012 Leaf Stone Syrah, which boasts savory and red fruit notes and great structure.
Fun / funky offerings: The team produces a white wine from Grüner Veltliner, a varietal used most often in Austria for mineral-driven, high acid wines with white pepper notes; they also produce several wines using verjus, the pressed juice of unripened grapes.
Visitor experience: "Everything we do on our farm is directed towards our goal of making delicious wines that will enhance the foods they accompany and add a touch of something special to any day,” say the owners.
Tours / tastings: $12 for a tasting of 5 wines.