Wines and Grape Growing in Virginia and Maryland
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Wines and Grape Growing
in Virginia and Maryland

Our list of selected websites below is not to be taken as an indication of sponsorship of any commercial enterprise, and is solely presented as information for those interested in wines and grapegrowing.

The Maryland Wine Festival - will be held at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, MD on September 16-17, 2006.

The Virginia Wine Festival - will be held at Morven Park Equestrian Center, Leesburg, Virginia on Sept 30, Oct 1, 2006

Welcome to the world of Maryland wine - Wines, Wineries, News, Events, Links, MD Grape Growers Association...and much more.

Beginners Grape Growing Short Course - offered by the University of Maryland.

Starting a commercial vineyard in Maryland - Maryland wine grapes are generally of high quality and produce nationally-respected wines.

Virginia Wine Industry - Wines - Wineries and Vineyards - Festivals and Events - News...and much more.

Virginia Wine Guide - The Virginia Wine and Food Society Newsletter ...and much more.

The Virginia Fruit Web Site: Virginia Vineyards - A wealth of information on Virginia Wines, Vineyards and Wineries.

The Virginia Vineyards Association - Information exchange and cooperation among viticulturists, wineries, in VA.

Virginia Wine Country - Everything you need to know about Virginia Wineries.

Wine - Enology - Grape Chemistry Lab at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Agricultural Research & Extension Center- Viticulture

The Virginia Wineries Association

Webmaster -

Virginia Wines
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Virginia Wine History -As soon as they set up the Jamestown colony in 1607, English settlers were already thinking about production of wine. There was a ready market for it back across the sea, and great riches could be expected for successful winemakers. The first wine was produced in 1609 from native grapes, and in 1611 vineyard specialists arrived from the Mother Country which was anxious to establish winemaking in the colony.

Thus began two centuries of frustration in producing wine in the colony, despite official encouragement such as the 1624 Requirement by the House requiring that 20 vines be planted for each male colonist above age 20. The colonies even brought in French viticulturists who, however, failed for two centuries to transplant European viticulture to the New World. Yet, in 1769 on the eve of the American Revolution, the Virginia Assembly appointed a French vineyardist, Andrew Estave, as winemaker and viticulturist for the colony. Like all before him, Estave failed.

Still, even in failure, Estave reached a conclusion that, by the turn of the century, was widely accepted and would lead to development of a strong wine industry in Virginia. Estave's conclusion was that the problem was in the grapes, that the European vitus vinifera grapes were too fragile for the American climate. Instead, he believed native American grapes would flourish in the Virginia climate of cold winters and hot, humid summers.

   Philip Mazzei
Enter Thomas Jefferson who was anxious to see winemaking develop in America both for its pleasing qualities and as an alternative crop to lessen the colony's dependence on tobacco, the number one cash crop in Virginia. To further that aim, in 1773 he gave 2,000 acres to his friend, Philip Mazzei a Florentine, who also believed native grapes must be the foundation of successful winemaking. in 1773 Mazzei settled in Virginia with twelve Italian farmers, in order to start an agricultural enterprise. Initially the Italian farmers successfully transplanted the hundreds of fruit trees and vine grafts they had brought from Tuscany; but in May 1774 an unprecedented freeze destroyed a good part of what they had expectantly cultivated.

Though Mazzei's efforts later on were interrupted by the Revolutionary War and never resumed, Jefferson continued his study and love of wines. He became a wine advisor to several American presidents and, at George Washington's request, selected the first wines to be stocked in the White House.

Perhaps most important, as Ambassador to France, he visited and closely studied the winemaking areas of Italy and France and returned home an even more enthusiastic ambassador of wines.

In an era when harder spirits were the custom, Jefferson firmly believed wines were a healthier beverage--a conclusion reached by numerous modern studies. He commented: "In countries which use ardent spirits, drunkenness is the mortal vice; but in those countries which make wine for common use, you never see a drunkard." More pointedly, Jefferson said: "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage."

While he appreciated European wines, Jefferson agreed with Mazzei and Estave that an American winemaking industry would depend upon native American grapes rather than European varieties. Others had reached the same conclusion and, by 1800, Virginians had turned to development of hybrids of American and European varieties, resulting in grapes that combined American hardiness with European finesse and complexity. The most popular were the Alexander, Norton, Catawba, Isabella, Niagara, Concord, and Delaware--all of which are still grown today.

Between 1800 and the outbreak of the War Between the States, a strong winemaking industry developed in Virginia. Unfortunately, with so many fierce battles on Virginia soil during the war, vineyards were destroyed with the rest of the economy, leaving winemakers in no position to compete with other wines that began flooding the market, especially from California. In the later 1800s, Prohibition sentiment gained in Virginia, further retarding the revival of winemaking and, by the time Virginia voted dry in 1914, few vineyards were left in the state. In 1950, only 15 acres of grapes were being grown, mostly for table consumption.

In the 1960s, after half a century of dormancy, the Virginia grape industry began a revival that, in only 25 years, has made it the 11th largest wine producer in the country. The revival resulted from an increasing national appetite for wine, a built-in market in metropolitan areas, and the receptivity of farmers to alternative crops. Combining these factors with favorable growing conditions, a new era of winemaking began in the Old Dominion.

The revival in the 1960s began with American hybrids. By the 70s, the emphasis had shifted to French hybrids. Another crucial shift occurred in the early 70s with the cultivation of vinifera varietals that would appeal to more sophisticated palates. By 1982 vinifera varietals had become the predominant choice of grape growers, producing what have become the most popular Virginia wines: Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also growing in popularity is another vinifera varietal, Merlot. The most popular French hybrids are Seyval and Vidal. Not surprisingly, other varietals are gaining prominence as the demand for Virginia wines grows in response to the industry's ability to successfully produce top grade wines.

One of the most crucial elements in the tremendous growth of the Virginia wine industry has been a favorable official climate as exemplified in the Farm Winery Law of 1980. One of the most significant provisions of the law is that, to qualify as a farm winery, at least 51% of its wine must be produced from grapes owned or leased by the winery. Among the many benefits of this provision is that wineries may sell wine at both the wholesale and retail levels without additional licenses. Other official encouragement came during the 80s when both the state and USDA initiated successful programs through Virginia Tech to help improve the growing of wine grapes and the palatability of Virginia wines. Tech's work on behalf of the wine industry has reaped large dividends in improvement of the industry as well as the stability of individual wineries.

In addition, the Virginia Wine Marketing Board works with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to promote the wine industry. Today Virginia wines are winning not only national but international acclaim. To appreciate this accomplishment, it is important to remember Virginia, in effect, had no wine industry until the mid-70s. It faces world-class competition from California and Europe, yet has managed not only to survive but to become the eleventh largest wine-producing state in the nation. This has come through learning more about weather and local conditions, allowing vineyardists to develop hardier strains to thrive in the more variable and challenging Virginia climate.

In fact, the variations from the Blue Ridge to the Eastern Shore produce variable vintages with the sensory difference in taste and flavor that increase the appeal of Virginia wines. The identification of particular wines with specific regions has acted as a boon to the state's important tourism industry, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to wineries and festivals all over the state. So 350 years after the first colonists at Jamestown did their mightiest to establish a viable wine industry in Virginia, those early dreams and frustrations have come to fruition in wineries flourishing across the Old Dominion. Hundreds of years later, His Royal Majesty, the London Company, and Thomas Jefferson would doubtless be proud, even amazed, at the place Virginia wines are gaining throughout the nation and the world.

In 2003 more than 80 licensed farm wineries werre in production, and most of them are open to the public for tours and tastings. In 1979, Virginia had just six wineries, and a little over 15 years ago a total of 29 wineries were producing 75,000 cases of wine. By 2001, the Commonwealth's wine industry had grown to 75 wineries, producing more than 285,000 cases of wine. And the industry continues to expand. Virginia’s wines continue to garner national and international awards, including a “Best of Show” in a California competition. Virginia wines can be found throughout the state in retail outlets, restaurants and at festivals and special events. Wines can also be purchased directly at the wineries.

Major Wine Varieties in Virginia

White Wines
Chardonnay - The most popular variety in Virginia, Chardonnay usually comes as a medium to full-bodied dry wine. It may be fruity with a hint of apples or citrus. Its versatility makes it appropriate with a wide variety of dishes ranging from seafood to lighter red meats.
Pinot Grigio - Has a smoky bouquet with hints of spice. The taste is of ripe fruit, with hints of grapefruit or lemon, and a suggestion of sweetness in the aftertaste.
Riesling- Has a spicy and fruity bouquet, usually off-dry or semi-sweet. Light to medium bodied. Sometimes produces flavors resulting in sweet wines that smell like honey and apricot nectar.
Gewürztraminer- Spicy and floral aromas. Light to medium bodied. Off-dry to semi-sweet.
Sauvignon Blanc- Herbaceous, sometimes vegetal scent such as fresh herbs, cut grass or bell peppers. Range of styles from tart to ripe pineapple richness. Acidity makes them enjoyable with shellfish and seafood.
Seyval Blanc- Aromas compare to green apples or nectarines. Light to medium bodied. Crisp and very dry.
Vidal Blanc- Aromas and flavors or green apples and nectarines. Light to medium body and off-dry to semi-sweet.
Viognier- Spicy, with fruity and floral aromas.

Red Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon - Complex in flavors that can emerge as currants, green olives, herbs, bell peppers, or combinations of these with mint and leather. Medium to full-bodied, tannic and dry. When young, good with robust meat dishes; older Cabernets go well with roasts, steaks, and cheeses.
Merlot - Cherry-like aromas with hints of Cabernet's herbaceousness. Softer flavor than Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium to full bodied, dry, less tannic than Cabernet. Drinkable earlier than Cabernet, yet ages well.
Cabernet Franc - Full bodied, dry wine with cherry flavors and violet aromas.
Pinot Noir - Cherry aroma with rich flavors. Less tannic with less pigment than Cabernet and Merlot, so somewhat lighter. Drinkable at two to five years of age, and will improve after that.
Chambourcin - Rich grape aroma and flavor. Full bodied, dry.
Norton - This native Virginia grape is dark in color and its fruity flavors may include plums and tart cherries. Norton does not have the "foxy" characteristic associated with native American grapes.

Specialty Wines
Rosé and Blush Wines - Usually blends of white wine with a small percentage of red wine, blended together to give them the blush of color. Usually light and fruity.
Cabernet Blanc - Made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, these wines get their salmon color from the process of removing the grape skin early in the wine making process. Light bodied and dry.
Sparkling Wines - Made in the Methode Champenoise: A table wine is refermented in a heavy glass bottle to produce a wine that has a bubbly effervescence. Light bodied, can be dry to semi-sweet.
Brut - A sparkling blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Usually dry.

A list of Virginia Wineries
Virginia Winery Festivals & Sponsored Events 2004
Virginia Wine News


Maryland Wines
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From a few vintners in the 1600s making wine to whet the thirsts of their family and friends, to the current bourgeoning Maryland wine industry - a coalition of wineries producing nearly 450,000 bottles of wine per year -- the story of Maryland's wine history is as rich and diverse as the landscape which yields the wine and as the people who make it.
According to a history of Maryland wine compiled by Jack Johnston and printed in Kevin Atticks' Discovering Maryland Wines, the earliest recorded instance of winemaking in the region was in 1648, when Tenis Palee made wine from Native American grapes. Fourteen years later, at the behest of Lord Baltimore, Governor Charles Calvert planted 200 acres of European grapes - the first European grapes in Maryland - on the east bank of the St. Mary's River.
Harsh winters, blazing summers - and little experience in this new venture - took its toll; few vines survived. The first real success was achieved in Prince George's County, when Benjamin Tasker, Jr. made a "passable" red wine from hybrid grapes in 1756.
Maryland vintners struggled on, trying new natural hybrids and some European varietals. In the early 19th century, John Adler of Havre de Grace produced a well-regarded "Catawba" hybrid in Havre de Grace, and in 1823, wrote the first book in America on viticulture and winemaking. Six years later, Maryland Society for Promoting the Culture of the Vine, an organization similar to the modern-day Association of Maryland Wineries, was formed. Maryland vintners continued to produce wines using native American and traditional European varieties.
Maryland wine achieved real stature when Philip Wagner, a prominent local newspaper editor, planted as many different hybrids as he could at his Baltimore County home - and they prospered. Wagner produced his own wine and sold the vines throughout the east coast. And in 1945, he opened Maryland's first bonded winery, Boordy Vineyards, which continues in operation today under the ownership of the R.B. Deford family.
Wagner also penned America's first book on modern wine making, American Wines and How to Make Them, later revised as Grapes Into Wine. Even today, the book is considered the definitive book on winemaking in America.
Another Maryland wine pioneer was Dr. G. Hamilton Mowbray, who opened the former Montbray Wine Cellars in Westminster in 1966. In addition to producing internationally recognized Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling, Mowbray produced Maryland first ice wine, made from Riesling. Dr. Mowbry and Philip Wagner received the Merite Agricole award from the French Embassy, one of France's highest honors for agricultural endeavors.
In 1976, the Aellen family opened Berrywine Plantations and Linganore Winecellars in Frederick County. Jack Aellen was responsible for creating Maryland's first viticulture region, Linganore. Two other viticultural regions have since been designated, Catoctin and Cumberland Valley in Western Maryland.
The 1980s saw the introduction of new wineries: Woodhall Wine Cellars, Catoctin Vineyards, Elk Run Winery, Loew Vineyards, Basignani Winery and Fiore Winery. The Association of Maryland Wineries was formed in 1984 to help promote the state's burgeoning wine industry. The first Maryland wine festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum was held that same year.
Cygnus Wine Cellars, Deep Creek Cellars and Penn Oaks Winery opened for business in the 1990s.. In 2000, the Maryland wine industry set two important records - 86,954 gallons of wine were sold, and more than 25,000 people in attendance at the Maryland Wine Festival.
In 2002, the Maryland wine industry continued to grow with the addition of Little Ashby Winery in Easton.

With more than 140 different varieties of wine to choose from, there's a Maryland wine that's perfect for every palate and every pocketbook. Drawing from generations of experience and an ideal climate for ripening classical winegrapes, Maryland's skilled winemakers provide wine drinkers a wonderful experience world class wine made in Maryland. From the mountains of Western Maryland to the Chesapeake plains, from country landscapes to quaint historic towns, Maryland's 12 wineries provide a wide variety of delightful settings for a family adventure, a gathering with friends, a romantic interlude, or a moment of quiet solitude. Visit a Maryland winery to meet the winemakers and see how your favorite wine goes from grape to bottle. Spend a day (or a weekend!) in the country, or simply enjoy a leisurely escape among the rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. Taste our superb wine, explore our picturesque vineyards, and take part in our exciting events throughout the year.

The Maryland Governor's Cup Competition is the premier competition honoring Maryland wines. An independent panel of experts selects those wines that display the best tastes, aromas, body and finish. The Governor's Cup Awards are announced each September at the Maryland Wine Festival. The much-coveted Governor's Cup is awarded to the wine judged to be the best of those made with grapes grown in Maryland. In 2003, 11 Maryland wineries submitted wines for judging at the Governor's Cup.
In 2003 The Governor's Cup Winner was:
1999 Lorenzino Reserve - Basignani Winery
Best Red Wine: 1999 Lorenzino Reserve - Basignani Winery
Best Dry White Wine: 2002 Barrel Select Chardonnay - Boordy Vineyards
Best Sparkling Wine: Catawba Cuvée - Cygnus Wine Cellars
Best Dessert Wine: Mer de Glace - Catoctin Winery
Best Fruit Wine: Blueberry - Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars
Best Semi-Sweet Wine: Eye of the Oriole - Catoctin Winery
Best Specialty Wine: Raspberry in Grape - Loew Vineyards
Judge's Award: Catoctin Winery / Bob Lyon, winemaker

Maryland Wineries
Maryland Wine News
Maryland Wine Events