No sniffing, no swishing, no spitting -- this is a Linganore wine tasting. So drink up, and don't be a snob about it.
"I love that one," said Lucia Simmons, marketing director at Linganore Winecellars, as a visitor stuck her nose -- stop that, just drink it -- into a plastic thimble half-full of a ruby red called Bacioni, Italian for "big kiss."
Oak aging barrels and conditioning tanks fill a small room at Linganore Winecellars in Frederick County.
(Timothy Jacobsen For The Washington Post)
"That's really great with hamburgers," Simmons said.
The Bacioni's creator, Anthony Aellen, whose family owns the Mount Airy business, had another idea. "I serve it in the summertime, over lemonade."
In a state known for crabs, winemaking will never be a huge industry, but it's growing, thanks to loyal local patrons, the novelty of a home-grown vintage and a range of approaches, from the artful, region-specific vintages cultivated at Catoctin Winery, in Brookeville, to the high-volume, no-frills line at Linganore, in Frederick County, which sells more than half of Maryland's wines.
There are 16 wineries in the state, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
"Last year we saw 25 percent growth in the number of wineries [opened] and the same number in terms of growth" in sales, he said. "We jumped from 12 to 16 wineries in 2004, and we're looking to up that by anywhere from four to six new wineries in 2005."
For the first time, the Maryland General Assembly will appropriate $50,000 to $150,000 this year to a newly created wine marketing council to support promotional activities, education and research. For example, by teaming with a university, Atticks said, the Maryland wine industry can stretch that money and better compete with Virginia and Pennsylvania, whose wineries have historically gotten more state support.
With wineries scattered from Maryland's western panhandle to the Eastern Shore, the best chance to sample them is at local events such as the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster or Wine in the Woods at Symphony Woods in Columbia.
Thirteen years ago, Wine in the Woods, the second-largest festival in Maryland, started out with eight wineries. Today it has 14, said Barbara Lett, chairman of the festival and event supervisor for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. The festival offers art exhibitions, food, music and a wooded setting.
"We try to reach everyone," Lett said. "Some people can be highbrow and know all about wines, [but] we also educate people [and give them] the whole overall view of wines."
Catoctin Winery was born in 1983, when vintner Bob Lyon talked the owners of the old Provenza Winery in Brookeville into leasing him their Montgomery County building. At the time, Lyon -- who has a degree in agricultural science with a specialty in fermentation science from the University of California at Davis, the Harvard of winemaking -- was a former patent examiner. In the Napa Valley, where he held a series of winemaking jobs before moving to the Washington area, people told him, "You couldn't grow fine grapes on the East Coast," recalled Lyon, 67.
"It's not easy," he said, but when one gets right down to it, the climate in Maryland isn't very different from that of many wine-growing regions in France.
"When it's cold and rainy, we have short crops, and during warm years we have great crops," Lyon said.