Sarita Cheaves is a DC native with a passion for food and wine. When not writing, Sarita devotes her time to building her brand,Vine Me Up, where she plans events and discovers wine throughout the Mid-Atlantic States.
Maryland is popular for a few things: crabs, college basketball, and some of America’s prettiest harbors. But Maryland Wine? Why yes. Winemaking activity in Maryland was attempted as early as 1648. Today there are about 80 wineries. For many years, wine in this state was known to be fun and sweet but that reputation is dwindling and tasters have to modify their expectations. Maryland soils and climates have been compared to Bordeaux and Sicily so why not the wines? Winemakers have discovered how to make quality local wine with classic European grapes.
I had the pleasure of visiting 2 family owned wineries that derived their winery names from the name of road and went on to achieve an Olympic level of success. Black Ankle Vineyards and Old Westminster Winery are leading Maryland wine to the gold with award winning wines and excellent service.
Married couple Sarah O’Herren and Edward Boyce were business consultants before they decided to grow grapes. They spent years with wine on the dinner table and had an intense thirst for knowledge. The more they learned, the more serious they became about starting their own winery. When they decided to leave consulting, they traveled all over the world, researching wine and how different regions grow grapes. In 2002, they bought farmland on Black Ankle Road in Mt Airy and in 2003 they started planting 12 varietals. The first harvest in 2006 birthed Crumbling Rock, a Bordeaux-style blend that won the 2008 Maryland Governor’s Cup for Best In Show. Black Ankle dove in head first, snatching the gold and since then everyone has wanted a taste.
The Black Ankle farm is 145 acres of sustainable beauty. Locally reclaimed material was used to build the winery and tasting room, while every bottle of wine is made exclusively from estate grapes. The tasting room is a work of art both inside and out. The “live roof” is laced with sedum, the interior is insulated with hay bales and the counter tops are made of chopped grape vines from the 2006 harvest.
They are currently in the middle of some major renovations. Soon, there will be an extensive wine cave and an expanded tasting room.
Black Ankle produces dry, Bordeaux styled wines. The tasting includes 6 wines. I certainly had my favorites but the two Albariños intrigued me. Where else in the Mid Atlantic can you taste two Albariños side by side? The major difference between them is two percent Viognier the blend. The owners also experimented with “leaf pull”, which means some grapes were in more shade. The 2015 Alegria is made from “shadier” grapes while the 2015 Albariño is made from grapes left in the sun. One was fruity and friendly while the other was delicate and balanced.
Old Westminster is a family owned winery run by three beautiful siblings, Drew Baker, Lisa Hinton & Ashli Johnson. Amazingly, all of them have experience that creates a formula for a successful business. Drew has a management background, Lisa is the chemist, and Ashli has a marketing degree. In 1999, parents, Jay and Virginia Baker bought the property on Old Westminster Road in Carroll County. They had no idea what to do with the attached juniper farm. While the siblings were away at college, the parents decided wine would be a great family business. After graduation, Drew took charge of the vines, Lisa assumed winemaking duties, and Ashli took point for marketing, events and other management duties.
In 2011 the family pulled up the juniper to grow 4 varietals, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Albariño. The winery doors opened to the public in 2013. Today, fifty percent of the wine is made from grapes on the farm and the other fifty percent comes from other growers in Maryland. This gives them a chance to experiment with interesting local terroirs and other growers are showcased through stunning wine.
Old Westminster’s Malbec won the 2016 Maryland Governor’s Cup for Best In Show. This is the first time a Carroll County Winery has been placed at the very top.
Last Spring Old Westminster launched Maryland Wine Cellars, a contract service that provides custom crush, winemaking consulting and wine business consulting to local wineries. This gives smaller vintners, who do not access to state of the art equipment, a chance to learn and improve their wines.
The Old Westminster property is quaint and cozy. The gorgeous Baker house is on the right, just past the Chardonnay vines. A short path leads to the tasting room. There will always be someone there to greet you and show some love. The Baker family are huggers.
The tasting room is spacious and chic with an industrial feel. The wine tasting includes 5 wines and each will please a variety of wine drinkers. The Chardonnay will always be one of my favorites. Not many people know that Old Westminster also dabbles in sparkling wine. They make a limited supply of Blanc de Blanc and sparkling Syrah rosé. Old Westminster also has an eloquent bites menu. Local cheeses, soups and snacks are featured weekly.
Only 12 miles apart, Black Ankle and Old Westminster are two wineries on the same Olympic team. Black Ankle is the older of the two. They are a bit more seasoned in French blends and excell in sustainable growing. Although something of a newcomer, Old Westminster reigns in wine innovation and winemaking education. Both wineries produce award-winning wines that are fit to compete internationally. It is no surprise that they both recently made the list of Top 101 Wineries in America. While they continue to rise, they are also extending their knowledge to help others and make Maryland wine a world-class product.
- 14463 Black Ankle Rd, Mt Airy, MD 21771
- Fridays 12:00 pm until 8:00 pm,
- Saturdays 10:00 am until 6:00 pm
- Sundays 10:00 am until 5:00 pm
- Tasting Fee: $12
- Live music: Fridays 6-9
- Wine Club: 4, 6, or 12 bottles per quarter, 10% discount, complimentary tastings, access to premier wines, exclusive invitations to wine events
- 1550 Old Westminster Rd, Westminster, MD 21157
- Fridays 5-10pm
- Saturdays 12-5pm
- Sundays 12-5pm
- Tasting Fee: $10
- Live music: Friday & Saturdays
- Monthly: Local food pairing
- Wine Club: 3, 6, or 12 bottles per quarter, 10% discount, complimentary tastings, access to cru wines, exclusive pick up parties invites.
- A great way to experience these wineries is with Vino301 Wine Concierge. Leslie Frelow organizes transportation, tours and tastings for all things Maryland wine.
- Leslie Frelow