Maryland in need of more grapes for wineries
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland boasts more than 100 wineries and 1,110 acres of grapes — an 8-percent increase over the previous year, a University of Maryland Extension agent said this month.
And there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“More grapes are needed,” said Joe Fiola, a specialist with the viticulture and small-fruit program, at the Extension’s virtual Bay Area Fruit Meeting on Feb. 10. “For every ton of grapes we grow we’re still importing close to a ton of grapes, so if people want to grow vineyards there’s still a huge demand for the grapes.”
Fiola, a nationally recognized expert in viticulture and enology, briefed the meeting on the status of the state’s industry, which is producing half a million gallons and at least 500 different wines yearly. More than 2 percent of all wine sold in Maryland is produced in the state, he said. The state’s wine industry produces $47 million in yearly sales and has a $2.7 billion impact on the economy, he said.
Fiola’s program plays a large role in advancing that industry. In addition to attacking persistent problems such as black rot — the state wine industry’s “Achilles’ heel,” he said — Fiola also scours the planet for grape cultivars that find common cause with the state’s varied growing environments. It’s not the easiest thing to do in an industry built on branded cultivars such as Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Franc.
“Growers tend to want to stay with name varieties,” he said. “It takes a while to get the consumer acceptance of the wine.”
Most of Maryland’s wine production is in Cabernet Franc, he said, but Petit Verdot, a red-wine grape, is gaining ground in the state. In Southern Maryland, Barbera grapes are the standard due to their heat tolerance.
To improve grape quality in the eastern United States, growers will have to resort to new practices to account for issues such as rainfall, which has bedeviled the regional viticulture industry for several years. Among the techniques currently being studied by the Extension: appassimento, an Italian term for artificially drying harvested grapes before making the wine. It’s a process that can take between 60-90 days in a Mediterranean climate.
“Because of our risk with the humidity and disease, we’re trying to work this process a little bit quicker,” Fiola said. “It is producing some very nice-quality wines and overcoming some characteristics that may be lacking in the vineyard.”
The university is also moving forward with its fermentation science degree, and Fiola said he is working with Montgomery County to plant a research vineyard and build a custom crush facility that would help vintners make their wine without the heavy overhead of a dedicated winery.
“Lots of exciting things there,” he said.