The Grape Escape
- Published: Friday, 10 April 2015 17:48
The Grape Escape: Chesapeake Wine Country - Eastern Shore Style
Written for shoreVines “Experience Chesapeake Wine Country”
By Tracy Mitchell Griggs
Cover photo: Crow Vineyard & Winery at Crow Farm
Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore has long been a playground for city dwellers from Baltimore, Washington DC and Philadelphia who have sought refuge here from the hectic pace of urban landscapes. Featuring hundreds of miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline, charming one-stop light towns and villages, working boatyards and marinas, quaint waterside crab shacks and antique stores, the Eastern Shore’s close in (less than a two hour drive) location to its neighboring cities, has made it the perfect destination for regional day trippers and those planning longer stays. Eastern Shore devotees and new visitors now have one more reason to sip and stay awhile. That’s right. Sip.
Recognized as one of the fastest growing wine regions in Maryland, the Eastern Shore now supplies a quarter of the grapes fueling the burgeoning state wine industry. Beyond growing grapes, Shore landowners and farmers have established wineries, B&Bs and tasting rooms to feature vintages that are starting to turn heads and that are attracting a new crowd of wine enthusiasts from more established wine outposts in Maryland, the Mid Atlantic and beyond. A few short years ago, the phrase “good local wines” might have been an oxymoron, but eastern shore winery and vineyard owners are bringing new meaning to the term “terroir”. At the international east meets west competition in Sonoma, California, 5 year old Crow Vineyard received a gold medal for their 2013 Vidal Blanc and silver for their first ever white blend. According to Judy Crow, Crow Vineyard & Winery, “…the wine traveler that comes to the shore is not looking for the same quality wines they can find back home - they are looking for a quality wine that underscores their experience of the Eastern Shore, in our case it’s an authentic farm that makes award winning wines. Both my husband and I grew up working our family’s farms. Our on-site winemaker, Catrina North, honed her craft at wineries around the world but she grew up in upstate farm country.” Crow Vineyard and Winery is part of third generation Crow Farm - a working farm set on 365 acres, featuring a 10-acre vineyard and 5000 square foot state-of-the art winery, events barn and a farm-stay B&B.
“It’s a wine country of specialties with each winery working with grapes from their micro-climate in different ways and that’s what makes it so exciting for the wine enthusiast.” says winemaker, William Layton. William spent his childhood on the family farm that is now Layton’s Chance Vineyard and Winery. Layton’s Chance, located in Vienna, is part of another multi-generation family farm, established in the 1940’s by Joseph H. Layton Jr. and his wife Laura, who started and managed a successful grain business. When son William returned to the area in 2003, the family reevaluated the farming operation and in 2007, planted their first grapes on 14 of the farm’s 1800 acres. After careful deliberation, the Layton’s chose to raise Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Norton grapes based on their hardiness and adaptability to the terroir of Dorchester County. William creates what he calls “fruit forward” wines where there is little reliance of layering in other ingredients. By contrast further south along the wine trail is Bordeleau (French for water’s edge) which often employs classic European techniques. “The variety of high-quality wines coming from the Eastern Shore are making waves throughout the industry,” said Kevin Atticks, Executive Director of the Maryland Wineries Association. “Bordeleau Vineyards’ Cabernet Sauvignon Amarone Style won the 2014 Governor’s Cup Competition’s “Best in Show”—a first for an Eastern Shore winery,” he adds.
Collectively, 14 wineries currently comprise the Maryland Wineries Association’s Chesapeake Wine Trail. The trail parallels (north to south) the eastern shore banks of the Chesapeake Bay. From Dove Valley Vineyard and Winery located in Rising Sun at the Chesapeake Wine Trail’s northern reach - to Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery, (located just outside of Salisbury) at the trail’s southern tip. Featured trail wineries are easily accessed from Maryland Route 213 or by taking quick detours from it along the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway. Traveling the Byway, visitors are treated to the sights of rolling farmland, rivers, marshes and geese taking flight that provide a vision of land that has changed very little over the last two centuries. Detours can be made to quaint towns, like the historic boating town of North East at the top of the Bay where Turkey Point Vineyard operates a full time tasting room and gift shop. Perhaps the ultimate Eastern Shore landscape is that of Clovelly Vineyards whose 10 acre vineyard runs along a beautiful bend in the Chester River. This new to the trail and by appointment only riverside vineyard is also presented by a 3rd generation family farm making wines from 100% on-site grapes. Clovelly took two silvers right out of the gate at the 2014 Maryland Governor’s Cup.
Lotte Bowie, manager of the Upper Shore Regional Council shoreVines initiative that has supported the explosive growth of vineyards and wineries on the Eastern Shore for the past five years, says Chesapeake Wine Country is on a promotional roll with elected officials, wine trade associations, farmers markets, environmental stakeholders, and wine enthusiasts helping to cement a perceptual shift of the Eastern Shore of Maryland as a wine growing region and destination. “Our local wineries see a new era of wine making being defined here as younger winemakers come to the area to make their mark. The wine industry on the shore is a magnet for younger people - it’s a business model they can relate to. You see both 30-something talent arriving from wine growing regions in California and Ontario, Canada, France and farm families encouraging their younger generation to take on a wine career,” says Bowie. "Clovelly Vineyards just hired international winemaker Matthieu Finot who studied viticulture and oenology at Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, France. Working round the world at his craft and most recently at King Family Vineyards in Crozet, a leading Virginia Winery, Finot will evolve fine wines from Clovelly's 100% on-site grapes. On the local side, the Spies family in Cordova, Maryland have been growing grapevines and specialty ag products such as English Cucumbers for the last 10 years. Last summer they opened their Wine Tasting Room -Triple Creek Winery which draws upon their son's experience as a winemaker for St. Michaels Winery and the involvement of the whole family, particularly Margot Spies, who as a trained nurse has a great way of making visitors feel very well cared for." Bowie also added that two more Eastern Shore wineries and vineyards are poised for unique debuts. One is Chateau BuDe who is transforming the historic circa 1600’s Bohemia Manor Farm on the Bohemia River with a beautiful riverside vineyard and winery. The Vineyards at Dogwood tucked away in a bucolic setting, nurtures some of the oldest vines in the Chestertown area. The owners of this vineyard located on the south side of the Chester River, Dawn and Mike Willey, personally hand craft their wines from 100% on-site grapes. They expect to offer their wines this summer.
Historic Chestertown in Kent County, Maryland is centrally located along the trail and could soon take the crown as capital of Chesapeake Wine Country with 8 wineries within a 30 minutes’ drive. The popular Sultana Downrigging Event is planning to feature its second Wine Trail Pavilion this fall. A thriving farmers market showcases tastings and features vintages from 4 nearby wineries. Al and Jennifer Cassinelli owner-operators of Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards produce Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, Sangiovese, Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes at their vineyard between Chestertown and Centreville. They have created an ag environment with livestock, including buffalo and donkeys and an abundant fruit orchard. The couple is currently looking to open a distillery in Chestertown that will feature their hand-crafted spirits along with a companion wine bar spotlighting local wines. Another new wine related shop to make its appearance in downtown Chestertown is the Chester River Wine & Cheese Co., a specialty artisan foods purveyor located in the historic commercial district. The shop offers wine for offsite consumption, cut-to-order cheese, charcuterie, and a variety of specialty foods, and domestic and international old-world style wines. Owners Jenn Baker and John Laucik have local retail interests in mind. “We are a fine food retailer and it is this designation that is enabling us to pursue the legislation that will hopefully allow other wine shops in Kent County to serve wine by the glass. This is important given our goal is to support and provide individualized attention to our local vineyards and operate a sustainable business model for our shop.”
In the context of the larger region, the Eastern Shore’s Chesapeake Wine Trail is part of the recently launched Vintage Atlantic Wine Region representing six wine trails in the bordering states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. At the September 2014 launch party for the new wine region, Harvest Ridge Winery owner Chuck Nunan whose vineyard straddles both Delaware and Maryland, expressed his enthusiasm saying, “This is a really an exciting time for wine growing on the Eastern Shore. Fifty-five wineries and vineyards are coming together to create tourist destinations points - we’re at the place Napa Valley was in the 60’s.” The Eastern Shore and its settlers played a significant role in the historic events surrounding the dawn of the nation, and now with its relationship to the broader Vintage Atlantic Wine Region it rightfully claims its own birthright and designation as Chesapeake Wine Country.
Over a third of the wineries on the trail are open year round and host a variety of wine, art and cultural activities, and some offer their bucolic settings for weddings and signature events. Some are open primarily weekends such as Cascia Vineyards owned by Nasa Engineer and winemaker Mark Cascia. Mark and his wife Kimberly have an immaculate vineyard and light filled wine tasting room Creekside just off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Although not part of the trail, Costa Vendosa Winery (and brew maker), just before you hit Ocean City beaches, offers a lively wine down Friday bar scene and music at their tasting room. Some say the best wine country travel bookend is the historic and picturesque town of Berlin, host to the Maryland Wine Bar which has had a huge success selling Maryland local wines exclusively. No doubt, there are many wine country experiences to sip and stay for on the Eastern Shore. It is suggested that visitors check the winery web sites for individual business hours and happenings or chesapeakewinecountrymd.com.
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