A Taste: Wineries of Maryland (first in a periodic series)

 I am sipping one of the wines we purchased even as I write this.

Last Saturday — a glorious day of bright blue skies and few clouds lingering overhead — my friend, husband, and I visited three local Maryland wineries: Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars, and Black Ankle Vineyards. According to the Maryland Wine Passport — a nifty $2 purchase that lists all Maryland wineries, addresses, organized by region — there are some 44 wineries in Maryland now. We chose these three based on recommendations and our preferences at the Wine in the Woods Festival last May.

During the day we learned some surprising and heartening things, including that local wineries seem to be diligently pursuing green business practices, that are not only helping the environment but seem to be paying off for the wineries as well. Among the practices embraced by the wineries we visited are recycling, almost a 100 percent dependence on re-newable energy, and water conservation.

It’s worth noting as you try to plan your route that wineries’ hours vary. We started with Serpent Ridge because not only was it further out, but it opened earlier than the other two — we’d decided to start out early, a lucky decision as it turned out!

Located just south of Westminster in rural Carroll County, Serpent Ridge is only 25 minutes away from Baltimore. The winery specializes in small lots of handmade wine from grapes grown its own vineyards and other Maryland vineyards.

Serpent Ridge consists of about two acres of grapes, allowing, according to the winery, a “hands-on” approach to wine making. Each vintage is made in small lots and aged in stainless steel or new age oak. The bottles are sealed with a “Zork,” a relatively new approach to bottle closures that attempts to mimic the breathability of cork. Zorks are re-usable at home, by the way, and make it easier to re-cork a bottle of wine, should any be actually left over. I encountered Serpent Ridge at the Wine in the Woods Festival, took a Zork home, and on that basis, decided to visit the winery. 🙂 Such is the randomness upon which we live our lives!

Serpent Ridge’s wine tasting comes with a souvenir wine glass, with which you sample 6 wines. So now is the time for a confession: I’m not an educated wine drinker. And as hard as I tried to look like I knew what I was doing as I swirled and sniffed, I doubt I fooled anyone. The server shared a brief description of the wine as he poured the glass, and was willing to discuss each glass. I smiled, feeling out of my depth, although I appreciated his efforts. It boiled down to: I liked it or I didn’t. It turned out I appreciated some wines I didn’t expect to (a dry red), and didn’t like one of the wines I thought I’d love (a sweetish red). The wine tasting room was cozy and comfortable, not intimidating.

Our next stop was Berrywine Plantation/Linganore Winecellars. I’ve long enjoyed fruit wines as accompaniment to an otherwise simple dessert, or sometimes the entire dessert, so this was a necessary stop for me. I also was interested in a tour of the facilities, and several were offered at different times of the day — I love factory tours and the like, so I figured a tour of a winery had the potential to be equally interesting. It did, although without actual operations ongoing, it was a little static and frankly, just how interesting can tall silos of empty wine caskets be?

The winetasting room is in a repurposed a 200-year-old barn, that also holds a banquet hall and part of the wine-making facility. As part of its environmental efforts, the winery is 100% wind powered facility since 2011, and recycles approx 72,000 lbs of fruit pulp back into the vineyard as compost and deer control. In 2012, the winery recycled more than 15 tons of post consumer waste. This appeals to my values! Notably, Berry Wine Planation/Linganore Winecellars participates in Maryland Green Travel, a voluntary certification program that recognizes tourism business committed to improving and diminishing their impact on the environment.

Although expensive for three bites of summer sausage, four bites of cheese, a piece of chocolate and a bit of cheesecake, I recommend trying the pairings, as it really brought the wine — and food — alive, in a way that just seeing suggested pairings written down on paper doesn’t. It made the experience much more interactive, and the server was happy to chat about each wine and how it interacted with the food. She didn’t make me feel dumb or inadequate for my lack of wine knowledge — a plus. Ironically, after enjoying the grape wine samples, when it came time to sample some of the fruit wines, I found I liked them less. Raspberry wine is one of their bestselling fruit wines, though, and when paired with summer sausage, is outstanding.

So it would be important to note at this time: either bring a picnic, or eat a meal beforehand. But sampling 16 wines here plus the six from the previous winery on an empty tummy was perhaps not my wisest decision; my friend and I were rather jolly as we stumbled back to the car. Luckily, my hubby had offered to serve as our escort and designated driver.

Black Ankle Vineyards, despite being relatively new, having only had its vineyard planted on 2003, enjoys an excellent reputation as one of Maryland’s finest vineyards. The winery derives its name from its address on Black Ankle Road — and there’s two theories on how the road was named. The first is that the road remained a dirt and mud track long after other nearby roads were paved, so the name may stem from the muddy feet that travelers were left with on raining days. But local lore also suggests that there is an old native American trail called the Black Ankle Trail that passed through the area.

Black Ankle farms according to the principals of the original organic farming movement, including a strong emphasis on biodiversity, self-sufficiency for the farm as a whole, and a belief that the winery is a system of interrelated organisms.

In fact, the wine tasting room was constructed according to these principals: the building, which is eco-friendly, uses as many materials from the farm as was possible, including wood, straw, and soil. Its walls are insulated with straw bales grown on the site. It has a passive solar design, a living roof to capture and use rain water, but which also provides insulation in the winter and cooling in the summer.

The setting was exquisite — even on an extremely hot day, the porches were breezy and comfortable and picturesque. There were places to unpack a picnic basket and enjoy your own meal accompanied by a bottle of wine. The only off putting aspect to this was the commercial at the end of the tasting, which requested that we join the wine club.

One of the features of the day writ large was the outstanding beauty of the countryside and wineries — well worth an afternoon drive any day!

This will be the first in a series of articles on the wineries we visit, in which I review the experiences and share any tips gleaned along the way.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Getting there: I recommend GPSing it. Visit the vineyards’ websites for addresses and directions.

Hours: Different for each winery. Check their websites for hours and tour availability.

Eats: Several restaurants close to Black Ankle and Linganore Winecellars, but best choice of all? Pack a picnic. All three wineries offered picnic tables or indoor facilities and seemed to encourage folks to bring their own food, supposing, of course, that most likely you’d also purchase a bottle of wine to go with it!

Websites: Visit www.marylandwine.com for hours, maps, and directions.

Serpent Ridge: www.serpentridge.com

Berrywine Plantation/Linganore Winecellars: www.linganorewines.com

Black Ankle Vineyard: www.blackankle.com

Updated May 2018.

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2 Replies to “A Taste: Wineries of Maryland (first in a periodic series)”

  1. Love the close-up of the wine glass in the flowers….kept looking for the like button!

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