For 10 years, wine connoisseurs and novices have flocked to Howard County to celebrate Wine in the Woods, a wine-tasting festival featuring Maryland-produced libations. Yet the county never had a winery of its own represented.
That's likely to change, however.
Last year, Jan and Maura Luigard, owners of Penn Oaks Winery in Silver Spring, purchased 37 acres off Roxbury Mills Road (Route 97) in Cooksville. Soon, they will begin the year-long process of preparing the soil to create Howard's first winery with its own vineyard. Once the grapes are planted, however, it could take up to five years before the first bottle of wine is produced.
Penn Oaks, which now purchases its grapes from vineyards in Maryland and elsewhere, will plant its own grapes, build a barn to house the winery and eventually offer tours to the public. Until the Luigards' new winery is up and running, the couple will continue to make, barrel, bottle and cork wine from their 400-square-foot basement
"It's going to be a substantial increase in space," said Maura Luigard, 41, a physical therapist who started making wine with her husband in 1997. They used skills he learned while traveling in Germany on business.
In 2000, the Luigards turned his hobby into a serious business, and last year, Jan Luigard, 40, quit his job as an electrical engineer at a semiconductor manufacturing company and turned full time to the business of fermenting grapes.
Of the 12 wineries in Maryland, Penn Oaks is the only one in a residence. "It seems like an unusual setting, but it's not too dissimilar from a true European experience," Maura Luigard said.
The basement is filled with grape presses and large barrels. The couple can accommodate 14 people at a time in their home for wine tastings. They offer monthly events to show off their Germanic-style whites and their Italian reds.
The Luigards, who have three children, ages 3, 5 and 8, produce about 10,000 gallons, or 2,000 bottles of wine, a year. They create six whites and three reds. Seventeen retail locations in Maryland and three restaurants carry their label.
The popularity of Maryland wine has increased partly because of the "Ask for Maryland Wine" promotional campaign launched by the Association of Maryland Wineries using a $50,000 grant from the state's Department of Agriculture. In 2001, about 500,000 bottles of Maryland-made wine were sold, nearly 15 percent more than the previous year. Figures for 2002 have not been released, but an increase of 11 percent is expected, with sales estimated at $5 million, or $500,000 more than the previous year, said Robert Deford, the association's president.
"People are really noticing Maryland wines," he said. "I grew up in this business, and I've never felt quite the sense of pull that I'm feeling right now."
Deford, who owns Maryland's oldest winery, Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County, said he's receiving an unprecedented number of phone calls from people interested in getting into the business.
"The wine industry is becoming an example of a homegrown industry that does it from the ground up," Deford said. "As Marylanders learn to take pride, our industry is going to experience a tremendous growth."
The association hopes to ultimately have a winery in every county. Although conditions may be ripe in Howard for growing grapes, high land prices have pushed some vintners north to Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties. Three of Maryland's dozen wineries -- Linganore Winecellars, Elk Run Vineyards and Loew Vineyards -- are just north of Interstate 70 in Mount Airy.
Maintaining a vineyard can cost approximately $6,000 to $10,000 a acre. Producing wine takes the right combination of altitude, climate and land. Being close to consumers is also important. Howard has the right mix to create Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, Montepulcianos and other European wines that Penn Oaks now produces, said Joseph Fiola, a specialist in viticulture (grape growing) at Maryland Cooperative Extension in Keedysville.The Cooksville location , he said, will also allow the Luigards to use a Traminette grape, which takes well to the warmer days and cooler nights often found in northern Howard.
"You have a good area to grow grapes and good access to people," Fiola said. "From a marketing standpoint, the Luigards are in a prime area."
Wine in the Woods, presented by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Symphony Woods, Columbia. More than 14,000 people are expected for the 11th annual event, which will feature wine tastings, food, crafts and entertainment. Tickets cost $18 at the gate or $17 in advance and include 10 tastings and a souvenir glass. Those attending must be 21 or older and an ID is required. For more information, call 410-313-7275 or visit www.wineinthewoods.com.