Maryland’s impact on the history of U.S. viticulture exceeds its reputation for fine wine. In the 1940s, Philip Wagner popularized French-American hybrid grape varieties hearty enough to withstand the humid, rainy East Coast climate. That sparked the growth of viticulture along the Eastern Seaboard until later winemakers figured out how to grow European Vitis vinifera varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Today, Maryland is enjoying a wine renaissance. The Free State had only 12 wineries at the turn of the century; that number was up to 85 at the beginning of this year. More than 900 acres are planted to vines.
The Free State had only 12 wineries at the turn of the century; that number was up to 85 at the beginning of this year.
“Encouragingly, most of the new wineries are planting their own vineyards and producing estate wines,” says Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. That estate focus helps drive quality in an industry where grape supply lags behind demand.
Maryland Wine Facts
• Vineyard Acreage:
• Number of Producers:
85 wineries, including 4 cideries & 3 meaderies; 15 distilleries
• Leading wineries:
Big Cork, Black Ankle, Bordeleau, Boordy, Fiore, Knob Hall, Old Westminster, Port of Leonardtown, Slack, The Vineyards at Dodon
• Most common grape varieties:
Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc
• Other common whites:
Albariño, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc
• Other common reds:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Nebbiolo
“Not all of Maryland is created equal, but there are places where truly remarkable wine can be made,” says Drew Baker of Old Westminster Winery, one of the new wineries beginning to catch national attention. Old Westminster recently purchased 117 acres of struggling farmland on decaying slate soils, where Baker hopes to make “iconic” red wines.
There are seven organized wine trails, but wineries cluster in two areas. The first, Central Maryland, sits along the Catoctin Mountains and a parallel ridge to the east, where the moderate climate and longer growing seasons favor Bordeaux-style red blends. Albariño and Nebbiolo also do well here. Top wineries include Old Westminster, Black Ankle, Boordy and Big Cork wineries.
Where Hybrids Grow
The other cluster is located along the Chesapeake Bay, where the land is flatter and sandier, and the climate is warmer and more humid. Here, high-acid red varieties like Barbera do well, and “hybrids are no longer being treated like second [class] citizens,” says Dr. Joseph A. Fiola, state viticulturist with the University of Maryland. The Vineyards at Dodon, Port of Leonardtown, Crow and Slack wineries highlight this area.
There’s also experimentation. Old Westminster created buzz last year when it released Maryland’s first pétillant-naturel wines. At Big Cork, Winemaker Dave Collins crafts a luscious off-dry white blend from Russian varieties that don’t even have proper names yet. Mike Fiore, an Italian immigrant and part of Maryland’s old guard, makes a delicious ripasso style of Chambourcin, using lees from his Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Great wine is being made all over Maryland,” Fiore says.