By Drew Baker
Value-added Agriculture is the future of farming. Especially for small, local farmers who find creative ways to use their resources to create new brands and revenue streams.
Value-added agriculture is the transformation of a basic farm product into something more valuable.
Some examples include dairy farmers diversifying into artisanal cheese and ice cream production; or ranchers making new designer clothing from raw wool; or grain farmers buy a still to make spirits; and of course, my favorite: grape-growers producing great wine.
If a farmer can transform a raw agricultural commodity into a marketable product or brand and sell directly to the end-user then the entire value-chain is captured.
But farmland is expensive. Many small family farms struggle with cash-flow. This is scary for their future.
Despite these daunting challenges, I believe the future for family farms is bright. Particularly in Maryland.
Millennials seem to recognize the value in locally farmed and thoughtfully produced products. Yes, their innovative products and brands may cost a bit more than their counterparts (those farmers who profit from basic agricultural products in high volumes) but the value of emerging new trend-setting brands and products is there for the taking. It just takes creativity. And often… cooperative resources.
That’s why we’re here.
Maryland Wine Cellars was created to help grape-growers transform their grapes into delicious wine.
The barriers to entry in the wine industry are high. Without getting into specifics, establishing and managing a vineyard, equipping a state-of-the-art winery, and building a beautiful tasting room are expensive.
But the resources are now within reach.
By Drew Baker
There is a debate in the beverage industry today surrounding one simple question: What qualifies a product as “local”? Is it the origin of the ingredients or the place of production? What proximity or percentage is acceptable? This question can be for the mid-Atlantic brewers using hops grown in Oregon, distillers using rye grown in South Dakota, or winemakers using grapes grown in California.
To maintain my credibility, I will speak only to grape growing and winemaking – a topic I can cover from experience.
I believe that the origin of the ingredients and the place of production should match. For example, a Maryland wine ought to be made by a Maryland winemaker from Maryland-grown grapes. This may strike you as stating the obvious, but the fact is that there are wines being marketed as local that are grown, produced and bottled elsewhere.
Maryland law requires a wine to be made from 75% Maryland-grown grapes to be bear the “Maryland” appellation. If it is made from more than 25% grapes grown out-of- state it can be labeled as “American” or bear the disclaimer “for sale in Maryland only” on the back label. Like it or not, that’s the extent of the law. The onus is on conscientious producers to educate consumers on a product’s origins and to differentiate truly local products from pseudo-local products.
If a producer makes no local claims about foreign grapes – and their customers don't care – that's one thing. It's misrepresentation that's a larger problem. And misrepresentation isn't unique to the wine industry. See investigative reporter Laura Reiley's findings on farmer's markets and farm-to- table restaurants.
The best wines made in Maryland are made from Maryland-grown grapes. There is an idea circulating that east coast wineries can buy grapes from California and make equal or better wines than what we can grow here. My personal experience says otherwise. California grape growers aren’t loading their best grapes into tractor-trailers bound for the east coast. If you want the best grapes – the singular ingredient of great wine – your best bet is to grow and manage it yourself.
In our first year of production at Old Westminster Winery, our home vineyard was not yet yielding a crop. So we purchased grapes from local growers like Links Bridge Vineyard in Frederick County and also from growers in Virginia and California. It was the perfect experiment. These small lots of grapes from numerous sites and regions proved to be an excellent learning experience; it honed our skills, began to reveal our personal style, and exposed that premium wine grapes can’t be purchased from the other side of the country. You guessed it: the best wines we made that first year were from grapes grown in Maryland. Since then we have committed to making the best wines Maryland has to offer from grapes grown here.
The only prerequisites for great wine are a good vineyard site, meticulous farming and personal commitment. The rolling hills of Maryland offers just the right mix of elevation, sun, breeze, and rocky soils to grow grapes fit for remarkable wines. Purchasing grapes from California isn’t a long-term solution – we need more farmers to recognize the potential to grow beautiful grapes in Maryland. It’s the only way to produce world-class wines that are truly local and uniquely Maryland.
By Drew Baker
Have you ever enjoyed a delicious bottle of wine that was grown and produced locally? We certainly have. Sure, Maryland may not (yet) have the same venerable notoriety as other regions of the world for fine winemaking, but the secret is getting out: noteworthy wines are being produced here.
So with that in mind, track with me on this thought: Ever been to a “farm-to-table” restaurant that didn’t feature a single local wine?
There’s a disconcerting disconnect here – an elephant in the restaurant: Grapes grown, produced, and bottled on another continent are featured at destinations purported to be designed for locavores.
Friends, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are the 3 main reasons local restaurants don’t feature local wines:
1. Some folks don’t see wine as a local farm product.
Delicious wine is grown on real farms. At Old Westminster Winery, we pour our hearts and souls into producing great American wines on our little slice of this planet. It all starts in the vineyard. We only have two goals in our winery: 1) produce a balanced wine that reflects both the vineyard and the vintage; 2) don’t screw up what we’ve grown – count it as sacred.
2. Restauranteurs aren’t feeling any pressure from their customers.
Don’t you think it’s time for “farm-to-table” restaurants to put their menu where their message is? We do. No more free passes for the elephant in their dining room: a purely International wine list.
Now don’t get me wrong, we all love Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. And I also recognize the differences between a local tomato and a local bottle of wine. But just like any other ingredient, the best local wines are worth seeking out and deserve a place on any wine list.
3. Inconsistency plagues many local wineries.
Local wineries aren’t without any fault. For every great wine being made, there are others that aren’t serviceable. Our industry needs to start taking its own reputation seriously and cater to thoughtful consumers. Growing world-class wines locally starts with a committed winegrower thoughtfully farming a good vineyard site. This formula yields grapes fit for the production of remarkable wines. It’s time we celebrate producers taking this task seriously and cut bait with the others.
At Old Westminster Winery, we’re doing our part to craft distinctive wines fit for the most prestigious wine lists. And we’re so thankful for the dozens of restaurants that proudly feature our wines.
But we’re just getting started. The tide is shifting. Let's work together to put Maryland wine on the map.
by Drew Baker
There’s a new sparkling wine on the scene. Okay, actually, it’s ancient. Pétillant naturel (commonly called "pét-nat") is an all-but-forgotten wine style enjoying revival. Pét-nat is popping again with the attention of sommeliers and wine enthusiasts around the globe.
This simple, natural style of sparkling wine made its debut in France’s Loire Valley half a millennia ago and is resurging in trending appreciation. Pétillant naturel (lit. “naturally sparkling”) also known as méthode ancestrale (ancestral method) is fresh and fizzy while displaying authentic handmade qualities. Educated and adventurous wine enthusiasts love her raw, unpolished vitality. Pét-nat is alive.
How it’s made
Pét-nats are made by bottling still-fermenting wine under cap and allowing fermentation to finish in the bottle. As yeast converts sugar to alcohol, naturally occurring carbon dioxide makes the wine fizzy. Once fermentation is complete, the bottle cap and sediment are removed, and the bottle is recapped. That’s when pét-nat is ready to be chilled for a sunny spring day. This ancestral method pre-dates Champagne and unlike the “Champagne method” which undergoes a second fermentation by adding sugar and yeast, the ancestral method allows the initial fermentation to finish in bottle without any additives.
Why it’s popular
Beyond the fact that it’s downright delicious, pét-nat doesn’t have any additives, there’s no blending, and the all-natural process is a direct reflection of the vineyard and the vintage. Once the still-fermenting juice is bottled, you don’t taste it again until it’s in your glass. This makes it a little unpredictable, and that spontaneity is one reason why it’s so popular.
Welcome her to Maryland!
Old Westminster Winery is set to release the first two pét-nat wines ever made in the Old Line State this spring.
The first is handcrafted from Albariño grapes grown in the rocky soils of their Home Vineyard. A timely harvest on September 2, 2015 captured freshness and bracing acidity from the vineyard. Fermented spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel. Just before fermentation was complete, 400 bottles were hand bottled and capped on September 19, 2015. This wine offers a dazzling and vivid expression of Albariño -- high acidity, apricots and limes, distinctive texture and only 11% alcohol by volume.
The second is handcrafted from Grüner Veltliner grown at Cool Ridge Vineyard on a limestone hillside in western Maryland. A timely harvest on September 8, 2015 captured beautiful, ripe flavors and balanced acidity from the vineyard. Fermented spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel. Just before fermentation was complete, 1,000 bottles were hand bottled and capped on September 23, 2015. Pét-nat Grüner is funky and delicious. Minerally, viscous and fresh; A treat for all wine geeks.
Old Westminster's team is especially passionate about this project because they love crafting wines that reflect the vineyard. These wines offer an authentic expression of the Old Line State – refreshing, distinct and intriguing.
Catch pét-nat before she's gone!
by Drew Baker
This morning I learned that a respected young family on Long Island making deliciously creative wines was denied a zoning variance. According to Regan Meador, co-founder of Southold Farm + Cellar with his wife, Carey, “This effectively means that Southold Farm + Cellar will cease to exist.”
We need young, talented farmers crafting delicious products now more than ever. That’s why the news out of New York this morning is so disheartening.
As a society we need to embrace locally farmed and thoughtfully made wines. Why? Because we can’t afford not to. The implications are that big. Local wines are the product of local farms.
Here are 5 important reasons to drink local wine:
1. Local wineries are economic engines.
In Maryland alone, the number of wineries has risen from 12 in 2000 to over 70 today. That equates to hundreds of skilled jobs, millions in economic impact, tax revenue, and a long coat tail effect for nearby restaurants, shops and B&B's.
2. Vineyards are de facto land preservation.
They preserve land for 30, 40, 50+ years without the need for preservation tax credits or subsidy. Vineyards are good for taxpayers and land values.
3. Vineyards are great for the ecosystem.
Unlike typical commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, oats, etc.) the land is cover cropped year round. The most thoughtful vignerons use diverse cover crops to entice beneficial insects and promote healthier vines with stronger immune systems that demand fewer inputs. Beyond the quality of the grape, this works in tandem with nature, not against it.
4. Wine is drawing young people back into farming.
Southold Farm + Cellars and Old Westminster Winery are two great examples. The average farmer in America is 60 years old. The average age on our farm is half that. This is good for the future. We need more young, talented farmers.
5. Sheer enjoyment.
Absolutely delicious wines are being made in nearly every state in America. Good vineyard sites, meticulous farming, thoughtful cellar practices and personal commitment will yield wines that display depth, character and most importantly, are a joy to drink.
Please reconsider the importance of drinking local wine. And purchase some wine from the good folks at Southold Farm + Cellar. They deserve our support.
by Lisa Hinton
A locavore is a person interested in local food. Naturally, as a small family farm, we love the concept. Old Westminster Winery was built on our family’s efforts to preserve our land and work together. We are deeply rooted in our community and we love to be a meaningful part of the local marketplace.
We founded our brand on a commitment to growing world class wines on our Maryland farm. Our customers love our product because it’s delicious. The fact that all of our grapes are grown within the bounds of the Old Line State is a bonus to the conscientious locavore.
Because we are solely focused on crafting wines that speak for themselves, we don’t have much of a marketing budget. We rely on word-of-mouth to spread the gospel of the new Maryland wine. But this also presents some natural challenges. We’re off the beaten path. There are no neon signs. We're on a farm tucked away along a rolling landscape.
We like it that way. This makes it adventurous for Maryland wine lovers to discover Old Westminster Winery.
Of course, this kicks against everything that traditional marketing teaches: Be front and center. Be louder than the competition. Being hard to find isn’t a good thing. Get neon signs.
We’re challenging this notion. I love that the typical person visiting our tasting room is intentional. They didn’t just follow a sign.
To us, marketing isn’t a priority. Delicious wine is our neon sign.
I also love that our brand is growing organically. There’s something about knowing that our friends, family and customers are sharing our wines and our story at the dinner table. This is what the locavore movement is all about. We focus on growing and producing great wines and providing visitors with a memorable experience. That’s it.
We simply work hard to produce wines that reflect the land and are a joy to drink.
Wine & Business
The Cellar Blog is your authoritative guide to creating, sustaining, and growing a successful wine business. Discover the best practices and trade secrets needed to build and grow a robust enterprise.
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