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Napa Valley, Bordeaux . . . and Brookeville?

Maryland Wineries Are Growing in Number and Variety

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page GZ16

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," says Lucia Simmons, marketing director at Linganore Winecellars, as a visitor sticks her nose -- stop that, just drink it -- into a plastic thimble half-full of a ruby red called Bacioni, Italian for "big kiss."

Anthony Aellen of Linganore Winecellars looks over his state-of-the-art bottler and capper. His winery produces about 30 kinds of wine, leading him to describe his business as "Baskin-Robbins." (Timothy Jacobsen For The Washington Post)

"That's really great with hamburgers," Simmons says.

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, in Brookeville, to the high-volume, no-frills line at Linganore, in Frederick County, which sells more than half of the state's wines.

There are 16 wineries in Maryland, 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 legislature will appropriate this year between $50,000 and $150,000 to a newly created wine marketing council to support promotional activities, education and research. For example, by teaming with a university, Atticks said, the 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, Sept. 17 and 18 at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, or Wine in the Woods, May 14 and 15 at Symphony Woods in Columbia.

Thirteen years ago, Wine in the Woods, the second-largest festival in the state, started out with eight wineries; it is now up to 14, said Barbara Lett, chairman of the festival and event supervisor for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. With its artists' exhibition, food offerings, musical groups and wooded setting, "we try to reach everyone. 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, in Montgomery's upcounty, into leasing him their 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," he said. To boot, he said, the soil of the Catoctin Mountains is a lot like that found in the famed French region of Bordeaux: "A gravelly loam . . . lotta minerals. With a complex soil, you get very intense wines. Our best, and Maryland's best, is cabernet sauvignon. It's winter hardy, a tough grape." In 2004, a bottle of Lyon's 1999 cabernet sauvignon won the Governor's Cup, a state award for quality. Yet Maryland will never be France, or even Bordeaux, he said, because the state government doesn't support wineries to the same degree as neighboring state governments. In Virginia, best-known in the region for winemaking, officials had until recently required that state-licensed liquor stores stock only local wine labels. Pennsylvania has similar support of its wine industry.

In a Supreme Court case soon to be decided, wineries are pushing to overturn a ban on shipping their products across state lines. If the high court rules in wineries' favor, Maryland vintners could benefit.

Lyon's wines range from $8 to $15 a bottle for the award-winning cabernet. His winery produces about 25,000 bottles each year, one-third of which he sells during tours of the winery, one-third through distributors and one-third at wine festivals.

He was never into winemaking for the money. While working at Chateau Montelena, in northern Napa, he learned how to handle wine "artfully," he said. A winemaker "is the custodian of fine fruit. If you have lousy grapes, you can't make much good out of it."

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