Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why We Have a Vineyard in Maryland

I can’t tell you how many times people in Washington have asked me why we have a vineyard in Maryland. If you’re not aware, you need to understand that Washington produces some world class wines. How many world class wines have you heard about from Maryland? Hopefully, Port of Leonardtown will be one. Maryland isn’t recognized for much in the Northwest. Even their famous blue crabs can’t measure up to our Dungeness crabs. The question is a fair one.

My husband’s grandfather bought about 240 acres in Mechanicsville, Maryland, in the 1940s. The land was originally part of a much larger tract known as “Long Looked For, Come At Last.” For many years, the land was rented out to area farmers who grew primarily tobacco, eventually growing corn, barley, Christmas trees, and a few other crops. Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop that is hard on the soil, and it was a relief to not have it growing anymore. With the demise of the American tobacco industry, the family was at a loss about what to do with the land. They brainstormed about a number of different ideas until one idea seemed to stand out from the rest.

Peter’s brother began thinking that a vineyard was the way to go. The rest of the family was skeptical, but Gerald spent hours researching the process and felt strongly that we should give it a try. The family agreed to plant one acre and see what happened. In 2004, we planted 25 vines each of nine different varietals. (Sangiovese, Shiraz, Mourvedre, Touriga Naҫional, Tinta Çao, Viognier, Marsanne, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc)The family learned about planting, spraying, pests, weather, microclimates, harvesting, and making wine.

Since then, we have added five other varietals (Nebbiola, Barbera, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Albariño) and placed most of them into production rows. We are also among the founding members of the Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative which runs the Port of Leonardtown Winery. (Don’t get me started about calling this “wine growers.” I seem to be the only one who cares that we grow grapes not wine.) My understanding is that the co-op currently has 10 member vineyards who volunteer their time doing all aspects of work at the winery.

In 2005, we bought our house in Charlotte Hall. Family members were traveling every week from as far away as Leesburg, Virginia, to work the vineyard, but they had no place to stay the night. The house on the farm is a four room clapboard house that really can’t accommodate multiple families. The house we found is three miles away and was originally built as a home and a dorm to a nearby school. It currently is configured with eight bedrooms and five baths. We now have family around every weekend and often even more than that.

What began as an idea for a hobby to keep the farm going has evolved into a growing family business that will probably remain with us well into retirement.

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