Elk Run and Red Heifer Wineries: Bicycles, Dogs and Wine, Oh My!

Last weekend we braved the frigid temperatures and headed out for some bike shopping and to visit two wineries — return visits for the blog to two favorite Maryland wineries.

Our first primary destination (we stopped at a bike shop first) was Elk Run Vineyards, nestled in the rolling hills of Frederick County, MD. Although I didn’t go to one of its Yoga in the Vines events (see the link below for more about that), Day Trip Pal did. She liked it so much she suggested we return so I could experience the winery for myself.

Elk Run Vineyard was established in 1979, and named for a stream that runs through the property. The site itself was selected for soil composition, orientation of the land for sun exposure, altitude, and its proximity to both Baltimore and D.C. A bonus was the fact that it sat on a historic property.

The history of the property is pretty cool. The winery site and the original vineyard is the old Liberty Tavern (the property sits on Liberty Road, near Libertytown, which was named for the Sons of Liberty who met there prior to the Revolutionary War, which is in itself so very neat, because I’d never thought of Maryland as a hotbed of revolutionary fervor).

In 1995, Elk Run expanded to land across the road, but that merely reunited the original farm. The original deed to the land on both sides of Liberty Road is registered as “The Resurvey of Cold Friday,” a land grant from the King of England to Lord Baltimore in the early 1700s. The new vineyard is called Cold Friday to honor the legacy.

If you’re a “House of Cards” fan then take note: Elk Run wine will make an appearance in an episode in the new season of the Netflix’ series, which will be made available in mid-February.

Elk Run’s wines can stand their own with other excellent wines. Look for Elk Run’s wines in well respected restaurants in Maryland, including on the wine menu of a local “destination” restaurant, Comus Inn (see http://www.midatlanticdaytrips.blogspot.com/2013/11/sugarloaf-mountain-sort-of-day.html for more about that); what was so startling about seeing Elk Run wines being offered at Comus Inn was that wines from the neighboring winery, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, were noticeably absent. 

Having never been to Elk Run before, I tried the standard sampling of six wines, which included a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cold Friday Vineyard, as well as a Riesling and a sweet blush called Annapolis Sunset that brings to mind tropical fruit and probably would do best on its own, i.e., drink it on a summer evening as a stand-alone desert. The sampling ended with Sweet Katherine, a sweet after-dinner red made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Day Trip Pal, for $3 more, selected six from the overall wine list, mostly because she wanted to try the winery’s champagne.

At this time of year, many of the wineries will offer tastings of their mulled wine, and Elk Run was no different. They recommend using Sweet Katherine for the mulled wine, heating a bottle of it with a half stick of cinnamon and a few pieces of orange peel. And I learned something — several somethings, in fact, about mulled wine. The first, mulled wine can be reheated, so if you don’t finish it all in one seating, then re-bottle it, refrigerate it, and give it a short nuke in the microwave when you’re ready for another glass. In fact, just make your mulled wine in the microwave. It’s a bit easier to avoid boiling. And you can make it “by the glass” by adjusting the amount of cinnamon and orange peel (use a tea strainer to hold the spices). 

Ladybird getting a cuddle from Day Trip Pal 

Our next stop was back to Red Heifer Winery, in
Smithsburg (near Hagerstown), to collect our free wine tasting (which we won through a Facebook raffle). There was quite a bit more snow up at that winery, so we were grateful to have a four-wheel drive SUV. As soon as we parked we were greeted by a chorus of wooofs from the winery’s hound dogs, including new coon hound addition, Beau. These are friendly hound dogs, so be sure to say hello to them!

I’d really liked Red Heifer the first time we visited, last October (see below for the link to that blog), when the winery offered a Furlough Freebie — a free wine tasting to all furloughed Federal employees. I found the winery unpretentious and very down to earth, and having just been furloughed, I appreciated the kind gesture.

But there are other reasons for liking Red Heifer as well. First of all, it’s one of Maryland’s newest wineries, having just celebrated its first anniversary last November, and it’s run by an energetic and charming young couple — worth keeping an eye on them and the winery, because their energy is immense. Second, they love their dogs, including Beau, their latest acquisition, who was acquired to keep the deer away from the vines (last fall they lost a substantial amount of grapes to the deer). Third, Yvonne, one of the owners, served the wine and was very pleasant to chat with (reconfirmed when we visited this past weekend and she remembered us!). Fourth, their web site suggests additional, nearby places to go, to make more of a day of it, which makes my daytripping soul sing with joy. Finally, I found wines I enjoyed as well. (You can tell that I go to the wineries more for the experience and to talk to people than for the wine!)

Red Heifer’s mulled wine was based off of its Red Heifer White (a dryish vidal blanc) (yes, white wines can be used for mulled wines)! I ended up walking out of the winery with a bottle of the Red Heifer White and a packet of mulling spices. I’ve been enjoying the mulled wine this past week, during the snowstorm and the cold temperatures!

We wrapped up our outing with a “linner” (late lunch/dinner) at 28 South, recommended by Yvonne as a very nice restaurant in downtown Hagerstown. Parking is easily available, the food was tasty, and atmosphere very pleasant. For future reference, Knob Hall Winery is not too far away from Red Heifer. Or, alternately, the nearby outlets at Hagerstown are enticing as well. Day Trip Pal and I are planning a return visit this summer to visit Knob Hall, and most likely, we’ll return to Red Heifer as well.

Day Trip Gal’s 15 Tips for a Day of Wine Tasting

  1. Choose a designated driver for the day. Along the way, you may want to select a bottle of wine for your friend to enjoy later.
  2. Don’t wear strong perfumes and aftershaves, which can overpower your and your companion’s ability to appreciate a wine’s bouquet and aroma.
  3. Eat a substantial breakfast or lunch, so you won’t be drinking wine on an empty stomach. 
  4. Make a day of it and bring a picnic. Most wineries allow you to “picnic” in their wine tasting rooms, but one or two don’t (although all provide outdoor space for picnics), so call ahead to ask. 
  5. Leave the candy at home, so you can truly taste the wine. Do bring along a few pieces of chocolate — I stick with Hersey’s kisses. Desert wines in particular often lend themselves to a chocolate pairing.
  6. Bring along bland snacks, such as pretzels and crackers. Or some slices of good bread. Also bring some cheese, perhaps some gouda and cheddar. I like to bring along some garlic flavored cheddar or smoked gouda as well — you’ll often find some wines that these would pair with most excellently! And usually I bring along a small summer sausage — again, there are wines that will bring the sausage to life, and vice versa. 
  7. Dress comfortably, with shoes that can take you through the fields and vineyards. That will allow you to go on winery tours.
  8. If you think you look younger than 30, be sure to take your ID with you (although frankly, I’ve yet to see anyone be carded, at any of the wineries I’ve visited).
  9. Take notes on the wines you taste, so you can remember your favorites. Most wineries hand out lists — so use those lists to star the wines that strike you most.
  10. Ask the wine server questions. Learn about the winery, and learn the stories behind why the owners started the wineries — there’s been an interesting story at every winery I’ve been to so far! Take a tour if offered.
  11. Wine tastings are virtually risk free — so try wines that may be new to you or outside of your usual preferences. Ask the server what his/her preference is, and try that wine, if it’s available. If you see a wine on the list, more likely than not, the winery will offer you a sample, especially if you seem as if you’re likely to purchase a bottle.
  12. Sip the wines and compare your impressions with those of your companions. Go ahead and sniff it too — and then swirl it in your glass and sniff it again. It smells a bit different, right?! Do you like it? Compare one wine to another. Think of the foods that you would pair with each wine. Ask the server about suggested pairings (and then make notes on the hand out list). 
  13. Ignore the wine snobs. Taste is a very personal experience. Wine is good if you enjoy it. It doesn’t matter how expensive a wine is — if it’s not appealing to you, it’s a waste of money.
  14. Relax and enjoy the atmosphere as well as the wine. Most of the wineries have gone to great lengths to provide a pleasant setting for you to enjoy sampling their wines.
  15. Don’t rush through the tasting — ask questions, chat with your companions, look around the wine tasting room. Savor the experience!
Now, about the bicycles: After 20 years, I decided to return to a youthful hobby, in part because I want to start including some day trip bike rides in the blog. We visited Mount Airy Bicycles because I’d heard good things about them and their willingness to really figure out which bike suits a rider the best. Although it was too snowy to test ride any of the models, I will return to take the bikes out for a mile ride each in a few weeks, so I can figure out what makes the most sense for me.
Also, I want to ride all 185 miles of the C&O Towpath, from Cumberland down to Georgetown (this trip is on my bucket list). Although I may not be ready for that this year, I’d like to do it in the next year or two. Getting fit and getting a bike I enjoy riding is a necessary first step. 
(For what it’s worth, the bike contenders are the Trek Pure Lowstep (pictured above), the Trek Verve 1, or the Electra (now Trek) Townie. If you have any experience with these bikes, or recommendations or suggestions, I welcome your input!)

Beau is wondering why I’m taking his picture
and not scritching behind his ears!

Tip #1: (Back to the wineries.) Enjoy the drive. Most wineries are in beautiful countryside.
We eschewed the main roads and programmed in “scenic” in our GPS between the two wineries. Even in the dead of winter, the countryside was lovely, and the drive very enjoyable between Elk Run and Red Heifer.

Tip #2: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Getting there: GPS it! Elk Run is located at 15113 Liberty Rd, Mt Airy, MD 21771. And Red Heifer is located at 24606 Raven Rock Rd, 7, Smithsburg, MD 21780. 28 South is located at 28 South Potomac Street, Hagerstown.

Hours: Elk Run is open Wednesday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday 12-5; Red Heifer is open Wednesday, Thursday & Friday – 1 pm-7 pm (by appointment during Jan, Feb. & Mar.) Saturday & Sunday – 11 am-7 pm.

Dogs: Red Heifer Winery already has dogs you can borrow for the visit. Elk Run offers cats in a barrel. Although some wineries do allow dogs on the grounds (for outside picnics), call ahead to ensure Fido is welcome.

Websites: http://www.elkrun.com/ Elk Run Vineyards; http://www.redheiferwinery.com/ Red Heifer Winery.

Check out previous posts on Red Heifer Winery and Elk Run Vineyards at http://www.midatlanticdaytrips.blogspot.com/2013/10/red-heifer-winery-furlough-special.html and http://www.midatlanticdaytrips.blogspot.com/2013/08/yoga-and-wine-in-vineyard.html

Check out the blog’s FB page for updates on places we’ve visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I’d love to hear what you’re doing! Email [email protected] if you’re interested in being a guest-blogger!