Maryland is the birthplace of the United States national anthem and famous for its blue crabs. In addition, it is now becoming a wine lover’s paradise with over one hundred wineries across the small state. Much to the surprise of people both inside and outside of the state, Maryland is growing into a winemaking powerhouse.
Early History of Winemaking in Maryland
Viticulture and winemaking in Maryland go back to the 17th century, starting in 1648 with Frenchman Tenis Palee, but little is known of his winemaking endeavors. Fourteen years later, in 1662, Governor Charles Calvert planted the first European grapes in Maryland on the banks of the Saint Mary’s River, but the vines failed to produce any viable grapes for wine production. The most notable person in Maryland’s early winemaking history is John Adlum, considered the “Father of American Viticulture”, who published his book “The Cultivation of the Vine in America” in 1823. Adlum experimented with the development of native American grape varietals and was instrumental in the growth of North American viticulture with the introduction of the Catawba grape into vineyards.
Maryland Winemaking in the Early 20th Century
In the 19th century tobacco farming was more attractive financially than grape growing. This inequity, along with Prohibition, caused wine production in Maryland to wane into the early 1900’s. But wine making in Maryland was not forsaken and in 1933 Philip Wagner, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, published “American Wines and How to Make Them” (later renamed “Grapes into Wine”) which became the definitive book on winemaking in America. Wagner also established Broody Vineyards in 1945, the first bonded winery in the state. Rob Deford bought the vineyard in 1980 and it is still operating today on 280 acres and is run by four generations of the Deford family. Located in Central Maryland, Broody Vineyards is the oldest winery in the state, making award winning wines from a number of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and American hybrids in both dry and sweet styles.
Contemporary History of Winemaking in Maryland
The 1980’s was a definitive decade for the Maryland wine industry. In 1981 the Maryland Grape Growers Association (MGGA) formed to provide resources and education for growers. In 1984 the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA) was established to support the growth and promotion of wineries in the state. That same year the first Maryland Wine Festival was held and has since become one of the oldest and biggest wine festivals in the country. In 2000, wineries around the state got a big boost when the Maryland state legislature passed a bill allowing wineries to sell wine by the glass and to sell their products onsite. Soon after the bill passed 3 new wine festivals debuted and more wineries continued to open across the state.
Maryland Wine Industry Today
There are 4 distinct wine regions in the state and 9 wine trails for visitors to follow. The Piedmont Plateau in Central Maryland runs from the foothills of the western mountains to the head of the Chesapeake Bay. It is home to the oldest and largest number of vineyards in the state with clusters of wineries around Baltimore and Westminster. The Eastern Shore region offers warm days and cool nights and supports a wide variety of grapes and styles of wine. In the Southern Plain Region, with its sizzling summer climate, Italian and other Mediterranean grapes flourish including Barbera, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano. Lastly, the Western Mountain region plays host to a number of vineyards and two wineries. Grapes grown here must be cold-hardy and able to withstand long winters and a short growing season. Varieties grown in this region include French and American hybrids such as Norton, Chambourcin, Vidal, Chardonnay, and Petit Verdot. To learn more about the four regions and the wine trails in each visit .
To find out more about individual wineries, including those who have won the prestigious Governor’s Cup Award given each year at the Maryland Wine Festival, visit the Maryland Wineries Association.