Wherever we travel, we try to experience the local wine culture. We recently spent some time in our hometown of Washington DC and took a day to see what’s going on with Maryland wines these days. An excellent recommendation from the host of our B&B in Frederick Maryland took us to Big Cork Vineyards, one of the most exciting new wineries in the area.
Maryland wines are beginning to flourish. The number of wineries in the state has more than doubled to 85 wineries since the Maryland Winery Modernization Act of 2010 relaxed regulations on wine makers. Maryland is still well behind its neighbor Virginia (which has 285 wineries) but it is growing swiftly.
Big Cork Vineyards is located in Rohrersville, just under 30 minutes drive from Frederick and about an hour from DC. When we passed through acres of vineyards on our way to Big Cork and first drove up to the bright white modern building, we put aside our preconceived notions of Maryland wine. We knew we were about to see something big.
We were impressed with their stunning 10,000 square foot tasting room, which just opened in January 2015. The large tasting bar provides room for a crowd of tasters on all four sides. Once you’ve finished tasting, you can enjoy a glass or bottle in one of the intimate seating areas around the room. A wrap around heated patio outside provides comfortable spaces to relax and take in the expansive views of the green countryside.
We were there on a rainy midweek day and were lucky to have a wide open bar with Jed Gray, the general manager, as our tasting guide. Jed is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), and is passionate about these wines. As my husband is also a CSW, the two of them enjoyed a lively conversation about the wines and the story of Big Cork. I’m not certified in any way, but I’m a good listener (and wine taster) and thoroughly enjoyed learning about this ambitious project.
Vineyard owner Randy Thompson, CEO of Thompson Gas, grew up on this land. The 100 acre property was part of the Thompson family farm and he had a vision of replacing the crops with vineyards and producing high quality wines. He joined with winemaker Dave Collins, previously of Breaux Vineyards in Virginia. Collins has twenty five years of experience making wines in Virginia, which has a similar geography and climate to this part of western Maryland. Called Pleasant Valley, this area is an extension of the valley south of the Potomac river in Virginia.
Big Cork planted their first vines in 2011 and has quickly become one of the leading MD wineries. The first vintage was bottled in 2012 and by 2013 they were winning awards. All of their grapes are estate grown on their 100 acre property. They produce 5000 cases of wine annually from the approximately twenty different grape varietals growing in their 30 acre vineyard.
There were six wines on the tasting menu that day: two whites, three reds, and a sweet white Vidal Blanc to finish. While all of the wines were nicely done, these stood out:
We liked that the 2015 Viognier was softer than many Viogniers. Aged in both stainless and oak, there was just a touch of oak on the nose. The wine was rich with honey and melon.
The 2014 Nebbiolo was full of dark red fruits and big tannins. It was slightly sweet on the front but then the acid came in to balance it out.
The 2014 Petite Verdot was a big chewy wine with a gorgeous nose, complex dark fruits and sweet tobacco. The 2013 Petit Verdot was the winner of the top prize in the 2015 Maryland Governers Cup competition, the first time this varietal had won in Maryland. Big Cork won 9 Gold medals and 5 Silver medals that year.
Jed pointed out that most of these wines come from juvenile vines that are just coming to maturity this year, so we could imagine the potential of Big Cork’s future wines as the vines mature. Admittedly, by our standards the prices are high at $42 for the Nebbiolo and $38 for the Petit Verdot, but these guys are focused on a high level wine experience. Every detail here is topnotch, from the commissioned artwork on the walls to the elegant chandeliers in the barrel room.
We bought a few bottles to take with us, but if we had more time we would be hanging out on that patio. There is live music on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You are welcome to bring your own food or visit their Grab and Go food market with cheeses, charcuterie, crackers and other picnic essentials. They also hold special events and concerts throughout the summer.
Big Cork Vineyards
4236 Main Street
Rohrersville, MD 21779
thurs – mon, 11 am – 5 pm
fri – 11 am – 9 pm
tours offered daily at 12pm & 1pm, $10 for 30 minute tour