Wine-ing about Frederick Maryland

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard hillside

Our summer plans are starting to look up now that we’ve discovered we are surrounded by wineries. We always try to make wine a part of our life, visiting local wineries wherever we happen to be traveling and living. Frederick, Maryland is no exception. When I wrote this article about our visit to Big Cork Vineyards back in 2017, we were excited to find such an impressive winery nearby. Now we have over a dozen more to explore.

Frederick exists in the middle of fertile countryside with river valleys and rolling hills planted with corn, grains, and increasingly, grapes. This location means that many of Maryland’s wineries are very accessible.

Catoctin Breeze Vineyard hillside
The hillside winery of Catoctin Breeze

In 1662 Governor Charles Calvert planted 200 acres of European vines next to St. Mary’s River.  Not much of note happened after that for 300 years. Then in 1945 Boordy Vineyards opened as Maryland’s first officially bonded winery northeast of Baltimore. Closer to home, Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy is the oldest winery around and the Aellen family has been making wine there since 1976. New wineries continued to open slowly throughout the 80’s and 90’s but then things have really taken off in the last two decades.

According to an article in the Frederick News Post last year, there are now more than 100 wineries in Maryland and over 1000 acres of vineyards. It might seem surprising that Maryland is making so much wine, but then our neighbors in Virginia have over 300 wineries. Why is Maryland behind? 

Links Bridge Vineyard
The vines at Links Bridge Vineyards

Turns out that the Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Wine Board way back in 1984. The board members are appointed by the Governor to promote the interests of vineyards and wineries through research, education and marketing.

It wasn’t until twenty years later in 2004 that Senator Donald Munson tasked the MD Department of Agriculture with forming a committee to find out why Maryland was lagging behind in wine production. The Maryland Wine and Grape Advisory Committee analyzed the states potential for grape growing and winemaking and made recommendations to promote the industry.

Based on those recommendations, the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Maryland Wine and Grape Growing was officially created to facilitate the growth of Maryland’s wine industry. They also set in motion changes to Maryland’s archaic liquor laws and encouraged investment from the state. (source: Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History, by Regina McCarthy)

Loew vineyards shady spot
A shady spot at Loew Vineyards

Maryland has four distinct wine growing regions: Western Mountain, Piedmont Plateau, Southern Plain, and Eastern Shore. Each region has its own climate and soil conditions. Most of the state’s wineries, including those near Frederick, are located in the Piedmont Plateau, which runs from the top of the Chesapeake bay in the east to the foothills west of Frederick.

The Maryland Wineries Association website has links to 10 different wine trails for our enjoyment. The Frederick Wine Trail, which was the first Maryland wine trail created in 2007, currently lists 9 wineries. However, there are many more within easy driving distance. I sat down with a map of the area and came up with more than a dozen wineries within 30 minutes of downtown Frederick (mapped out below). And that is just the Maryland wineries…we are only about 20 miles from the Virginia wineries north of Leesburg but we’ll save those for another time.

So far each winery that we’ve visited has been very unique. Some are focused on making serious wines while others provide venues for live music, or just a beautiful location to enjoy some fun easy drinking wines.

Black Ankle Vineyards outdoor tasting flight
Outdoor tasting flights at Black Ankle Vineyards

At this time, touring wineries is a very different experience, given the social distancing and safety requirements surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. It could be a long time before we can return to tours and tastings in their indoor tasting rooms. However, many of the wineries are open for outside seating and wine service. Each winery seems to be dealing with providing a safe environment in a different way, ranging from outdoor tasting flights to only bottle sales, and I’m sure the situation will continue to evolve. For now, it feels like a privilege to be able to visit and enjoy our local wineries in any capacity.

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