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The Drink Local Wine Tour of Maryland Wineries


The fifth annual Drink Local Wine Conference featured the wines of Maryland.  It was composed of a media tour of Maryland wineries on Friday followed by a conference and Twitter Taste Off in Baltimore on Saturday.  I was only able to attend one day so I chose the winery tour.  I woke up that morning to thunder, lightning, and torrential downpours.  The storm faded away during my drive up to Baltimore and renewed my hope for some vineyard tours.  I did not know who was attending Friday’s tour so it was great to see a number of familiar faces Frank Morgan (DrinkWhatYouLike), David White (Terroirist), Todd Godbout (WineCompass), Michel Birchenall (Food Service Monthly), and of Drink Local Wine co-founder Dave McIntyre (dmwineline).  I met many new faces such as Michael Wangbickler President of Drink Local Wine (Through the Bunghole), Kevin Atticks Executive Director of the Maryland Wineries Association along with Marketing Director Briana Berg and Events Director Jade Ostner.  Several dozen people stepped onto the coach which would first take us to Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard where we would also taste the wines of Elk Run Vineyards.  Our second stop would be at Black Ankle Vineyards where we would also have a lunch catered by Woodberry Kitchen.  Our final stop would be at Boordy Vineyards where we would additionally taste the wines of Cygnus Wine Cellars and Fiore Winery.  We would finally be dropped off for dinner at the Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point, Baltimore.

First Stop – Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard with Elk Run Vineyards

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We began our tour by visiting Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards which also hosted Elk Run Vineyards for the sake of Drink Local Wine.  As our coach pulled into the parking lot Christian Schiller (schiller-wine) came out to join us.  I also had the chance to briefly meet Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report. Inside the tasting room, each winery poured four bottled wines along with four mystery samples from Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards.  These samples included a pure Cabernet Franc, a pure Merlot, a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot, and a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc.  They are interested in releasing a new wine so these unidentified samples help reveal consumer preferences.  Sample C was preferred choice.

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I quickly tasted through the eight bottled wines then joined a small group for a vineyard tour.  I have visited Sugarloaf Mountain Winery several times over the years with my family.  My daughter’s friend from her first daycare is an O’Donoghue so we have attended both the Spring Bud and Grape Stomp Festivals.  On these visits we hung out at our picnic blanket and the tasting tent so we never managed a tour.  A handful of us walked up behind the barn with Mike to visit the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.  This seven acre vineyard was planted with 3,000 local cuttings of Slate Quarry Riparia in 2004.  Mike is a retired lawyer and now spends five days per week in the vineyard.

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The land between the rows contain grass though weeds sometimes crop up.  Though they rely on mechanical cultivation the weeds may become a problem so Round-Up is occasionally used.  The wind comes from the west, which is evidenced by the first several rows being bent towards the east, so Mike works the east side of the vines.  The vines are cane pruned with five buds per side.  He wants spacing between the vines so the last bud with apical dominance is pruned.  If this was not done neighboring vines would cross thus blocking sun and wind which would increase the chance of botrytis.

The ends of the vines were turning dark which signifies the flowing of sap.  Mike estimates bud break would occur this week. The vines have all been pruned for they are very delicate for several days after bud break.  If a worker accidentally brushed up against a vine it could knock off several buds.  After a few days they become hardy and green.

We tasted wines from the 2010 and 2011 vintages.  2010 was a hot, early vintage.  2011 was a soggy vintage with rain on 28 out of 30 days at Sugarloaf Mountain.  As of January Manolo Gomez has become the official winemaker with Benoit Pineau the consultant winemaker.  Many thanks to Susan Reed for once again providing answers to my questions.  And thanks to both wineries for providing us with tote bags and glasses.

Elk Run Vineyards

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My favorite of these four wines was the Merlot but the Pinot Noir had good strengths as well.  I believe this is the first pure Maryland Pinot Noir wine which I have tasted.

2011 Elk Run Vineyards, Gewurztraminer, Cold Friday Vineyard – $20
This had a musky, floral nose.  In the mouth this off-dry wine was soft with sweet white and yellow fruit.

2011 Elk Run Vineyards, Gypsy Rose – $18
This wine is a blend of Merlot and Pinot Noir.  The color was of pale dried roses.  There was soft, vaguely red fruit with drier flavors and some chewy, moderate acidity.

2010 Elk Run Vineyards, Merlot, Cold Friday Vineyard – $35
This  There was a subtle but decent nose.  In the mouth there were flavors of black cherry, smoke, somewhat ripe tannins, and a taut aspect.  It was decent overall with an agreeable amount of toast notes.

2010 Elk Run Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Cold Friday Vineyard – $35
The color was a light garnet, dried rose.  The light nose was more expressive than the Merlot.  There were cherry flavors along with tart red fruit, perhaps some licorice, and a tart middle.  There was a very gentle structure.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard

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Though I enjoyed the 2011 Pinot Grigio my favorite of the quartet was the 2010 Evoe!  I last tasted this wine almost one year ago and thought it needed some time to settle down.  That year has greatly benefitted the wine and should provide for some fun drinking this year.

2011 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Pinot Grigio – $19
This wine is 100% Pinot Grigio which was aged for 6 months in stainless steel.  Alcohol 13.0%.  There was a very subtle nose.  In the mouth the flavors showed restraint but also had some ripe white and yellow fruit.  There was good acidity, a softer finish, and perhaps a note of lees.

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%.  The nose bore very young fruit.  In the mouth there were grapey red fruit flavors which tickled the tip of the tongue.  It became very tart with red berries and grape tannins.

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%  There were flavors of bright red fruit, structure, acidity, and a little bit of black fruit in the finish.  A little young and should benefit from short-term aging.

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%.  The nose was nice with black berries.  In the mouth there was focused, moderately ripe fruit with some grip.  There was enjoyable texture on the tongue.  My favorite.

Second Stop – Black Ankle Vineyards

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Our coach was sponsored by Nomacorc which Frank Morgan had recently visited and described the night before to Lou and I.  It took some time to reach Black Ankle Vineyards so I had time to meet Whitney Rigsbee who is a Media Relations Specialist at Nomacorc.  We were visiting Black Ankle Vineyards to both taste wine and to eat lunch catered by the Woodberry Kitchen.  I have tasted several Black Ankle wines over the winter so I certainly anticipated this visit.  Black Ankle Vineyards had posted the menu along with some pictures on their Facebook page which made us even hungrier.  I begin to anticipate lunch as well.  Glasses of their 2012 Gruner Veltliner were already poured so we were handed a glass as soon as we entered the tasting room.  The five wines we were to taste had been paired with a lunch course.  Shortly after the Gruner was handed out trays of Seasonal Tartines were passed around.

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The lunch was sponsored by the Maryland Office of Tourism and was meant to showcase  locally sourced food and wine.  Table were set throughout the tasting room.  Seats and power outlets were quickly claimed.  Present at my table was Frank Morgan, Whitney Rigsbee, along with Paul and Warren (Virginia Wine Time), and Virginia Wine Diva (SwirlSipSnark)

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The lunch was superb.  Whereas the 2012 Gruner stood out by itself, the 2011 Bedlam was brighter and more delicate in flavor, which let oysters shine.  I believe these oysters were briefly on the grill.  However they were prepared, this pair of savory oysters are amongst the best I have eaten.

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I could smell the lamb on the grill.  Spike Gerdje had brought a small team from his restaurant and they had set up just behind the tasting room.  The wines were poured before each course.  With aromas filling the entire tasting room I simply could not resist tucking into the 2010 Leaf Stone Syrah which was my favorite wine of the day.  Just as exciting was the main course prepared from two Suffolk lamb butchered by Woodberry Kitchen.  They were presented as sausages, confit belly, and chops along with potatoes and scallions.  Fortunately a partial bottle of the Syrah had been left on our table so we were able to recharge our glasses.  By the end of the lunch we were running out of time.  With the dessert course being served there was a bit of a rush.  Ed had confirmed there were still several cases of the 2010 Leaf Stone Syrah left so a number of us left our tables to purchase our bottles.  By the end there was quite a buzz in the tasting room which was of enjoyment and content.  This could have been the one event of the day and I would have been deeply satisfied.

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Maryland Wine Association
Luncheon at
Black Ankle Vineyards

Seasonal Tartines
Grilled Chesapeake Oysters
Next Step Organic Wheat Berry Salad
Whole Maryland Suffolk Lamb
Beiler’s Heritage Acres Cornflour Cake

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2012 Black Ankle Vineyards, Gruner Veltliner – (Barrel Sample)
The nose revealed white fruit then some weight yellow fruit aromas.  In the mouth the floral fruit had both good acidity and mouthfeel.  There were flavors of honeysuckle in this wine with good length and round aftertaste.  Nice.

2011 Black Ankle Vineyards, Bedlam -
This wine is a blend of Albarino, Viognier, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, and Muscat.  There was a fresh, bright nose with herbs and the slight texture of white fruit.  In the mouth the flavors were of drier white fruit which was tart and mixed with acidity that made my tongue salivate on the sides.  There was a yeasty note in the middle.

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2010 Black Ankle Vineyards, Rollings Hills, Frederick County -
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%.  The nose was of light red berries.  In the mouth there were berry flavors and a hint of something bright.  The flavors had density with acidity at the back of the mouth.  There were some grapey tannins along with fine-grained tannins in the structure.  There was a cool finish.

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2010 Black Ankle Vineyards, Leaf Stone Syrah, Frederick County -
This wine is 100% Syrah which was aged for 18 months in 65% new French oak.  Alcohol 14.6%.  The beautiful nose had depth with floral fruit that smelled proper and was evocative of the Northern Rhone.  The flavors were young and tight but still enjoyable.  There was some grainy texture to the fruit and a creamy feel to the blue, grapey, and red flavors.  There was a touch of lipstick in the finish.  The acidity was well-integrated along with a deft touch of ripe oak tannins.  Nice.

NV Black Ankle Vineyards, Terra Dulce II, Frederick County -
The color was a tawny garnet.  There was tangy red fruit in this fortified wine.  Herbs and acidity came out at first with the red fruit.  Then tea, tobacco, and more tobacco.  It was a little spirity at this point and could use some age for integration.

Third Stop – Boordy Vineyards with Cygnus Wine Cellars and Fiore

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The ride to Boordy Vineyards was a bit quieter.  I had the chance to hear about Jade Ostner’s experience with the growth in Maryland wineries and also to meet Andrew Stover (chiefwino and Vino50).  When we stepped off the bus at Boordy Vineyards the sky was gray and the temperature had noticeably dropped.  We were located in the Long Green Valley which is just north of Baltimore.  There was not enough time for a vineyard tour so we paused in front of the winery for a brief overview of the winery.  The winery is currently housed in the ground-floor level of a 19th century barn.

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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.

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Boordy Vineyards produces three tiers of wines: Just for Fun, Icon Wines, and the Landmark Project.  For our visit we would be tasting wines from the Landmark Project.  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.  Four acres of Albarino will be planted this week.

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I started with barrel samples of the varietals used to produce the Landmark wine.  While I preferred the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon I also liked the strength of the Petit Verdot.  I would have enjoyed making my own blend from these samples!

2012 Boordy Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon (Landmark Component Barrel Sample) -
The nose was low-lying with almost musky notes.  There was ripe fruit in the mouth, vintage perfume, and an earthy/foxy note.  There was good mouth weight.

2012 Boordy Vineyards, Merlot Clone 15 (Landmark Component Barrel Sample) -
The fruit was sourced from a 4.5 acre vineyard with an additional 3.5 acres coming online in 2013.  This had a nose which stood out with red and black berries and a greenhouse note.  The mouth followed the nose with brighter acidity which drove the flavors on the tongue.  There were red grapefruit notes.

2012 Boordy Vineyards, Syrah (Landmark Component Barrel Sample) -
The fruit was sourced from a 0.7 acre vineyard planted in 2000.  The nose bore red fruit, a little greenhouse note, and old perfume.  There were mouthfilling flavors which had good structure and acidity.  The black red fruit mixed with old perfume and drying citric tannins.

2012 Boordy Vineyards, Petit Verdot (Landmark Component Barrel Sample) -
The fruit was sourced from a 1.1 acre vineyard planted in 2000.  The flavors were lively on the tongue with blackish fruit that had good concentration.  The flavors were a little tart with plenty of acidity.  There were fine drying tannins on the lips and cheeks.

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I then tried the bottled red wines.  The 2010 Cabernet Franc Reserve, the first ever, was drinking very well.   It would be my choice to drink while the 2010 Landmark Reserve ages.  It was a treat to taste the 2010 Merlot Reserve as it was a limited release for the Landmark Wine Club.

2010 Boordy Vineyards, Landmark, Cabernet Franc Reserve – $25
This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 18 months in French oak.  There were concentrated aromas of black fruit and violets.  The wine had a weighty mouth feel, power, and an inky finish.  Nice.

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.  The nose was light with racy blue and black fruit.  There was good fruit in the mouth along with concentrated drying tannins.  There were racy, weighty flavors in the finish.  The drying tannins mixed with vintage perfume in the finish.  The aftertaste brought some spicy, citric tannins.  This could benefit from a few years of age.

2010 Boordy Vineyards, Landmark, Merlot Reserve -
This was a warm vintage which was produced from shriveled, young fruit.  This had a nose of low-lying perfumed berries.  There was more structure to this wine with expansive almost grainy, blue and black fruit.  It had focused and a powerful structure at the end.  This needs age.

Cygnus Wine Cellars

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Up until Drink Local Wine I had never drunk a Maryland sparkling wine.  A few people on the bus had recommended those of Cygnus Wine Cellars so I had been looking forward to a taste. Unfortunately there was not a single bottle of sparkling wine.  I was not disappointed for I got to taste my two oldest wines from Maryland.  The Julian is always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which is only made in specific vintages and released after many years of bottle age.  I preferred the 2002 Julian for I thought it best balanced fruit, acidity, and structure.  The 1997 was interesting to taste and I imagine it will last for quite some time.

1997 Cygnus Wine Cellars, Julian -
This wine is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon and 27% Cabernet Franc.  The nose was aromatic, confident, and mixed some fruit with greenhouse notes.  There was acidity driven dry red fruit in the mouth.  Eventually a greenhouse note came out which followed the nose.  There were drying tannins in this wine which is very much alive.

2002 Cygnus Wine Cellars, Julian -
This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc.  The nose revealed red candy aromas with a little underlying mixed berries.   In the mouth there were tart, acidity driven red fruit, cool red fruit in the middle, and an old wood note.  There was a drying, somewhat ripe, structure at the end.

2010 Cygnus Wine Cellars, Port of Manchester -
The nose had a different sort of red berry aromas with a subtle sweetness.  There was plenty of residual sugar which makes it sweet but mixed with normal ripe berries.  A dry structure came out.

Fiore Winery

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These three wines are all pure varietals.  I cannot recall ever tasting a wine made from Chambourcin.  This is a hybrid varietal which Mike and Rose clearly know how to handle.  It was my favorite of the trio and one I recommend you try.

2010 Fiore Winery, Sangiovese – $19
Alcohol 12%.  This was a bit riper and almost off-dry than I expected.  There were some cool flavors to the round, red notes.

2006 Fiore Winery, Chambourcin – $17
Alcohol 12%.  This had a subtle nose of blue and black fruit.  There were slightly earthy, ripe round fruit, grip, and good flavors in this different and interesting wine.  Well done for a hybrid.

2006 Fiore Winery, Proprietor’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – $18
This wine was aged for over two years in American and French oak.  Alcohol 12%.  There was tart red, drying fruit on the tongue followed by a bit of old-school, wood box flavors in the finish.  It was tart with firm, drying, spicy low-lying tannins.

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  1. April 17, 2013 at 8:01 am
  2. April 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

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