Wine festival celebrates banner harvest season
WESTMINSTER, Md. — “The theme of the festival is that this is the best vintage ever,” Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association said of the 36th annual Maryland Wine Festival.
He referenced the recent hot and dry weather, which has been advantageous for vineyards, while causing problems for other agricultural crops.
Larry Elletson, head judge for the Maryland State Fair’s annual wine competition, agreed with Atticks’s observation. “Right now, the weather is perfect because the grapes are ripening. They need dry during the day and cool at night to bring up the sugars.”
Indeed, on Sept. 22 at the festival, Atticks further elaborated, “It’s a generational year of excellence!” But, “2017 dried out in the fall just like this year,” countered Eric Aellen, one of the owners and Vineyard Manager of Linganore Winecellars.
“This year Maryland wineries had a lot more challenges because of the intensely wet spring and early summer,” Aellen explained. “If you didn’t have a strong vineyard manager taking care of your grapes, it didn’t turn out as spectacular.
“But for the newer wineries growing their own fruit, that’s their bread and butter,” Aellen continued. “It’s more personal to them, so they’re going to take care of their grapes.”
And, amongst the wineries present at this year’s event, Atticks said the festival revealed just that careful management.
“At this morning’s meeting, everyone said the grapes they’re growing or receiving are great,” Atticks said.
Melissa Korando, a member of the winemaker family for Solomons Island Winery, said she was excited to hear those reports.
“We’re developing wine labels that we plan to incorporate Maryland fruit into,” she said, and a great harvest will facilitate their effort.
Korando also was pleased with the weather during this year’s festival, a 180 degree turnabout from last year’s, which thanks to Hurricane Florence caused the festival to be postponed and rescheduled. “The festival is always a good time,” she said.
“For a lot of our customers,” she continued, “it gives them a chance to catch up. It’s why we try to have something new each year,” she explained.
In addition, she explained the winery “tries to bring different wines to different events throughout the year, so regular customers can have something different to try at each festival.”
Atticks also emphasized the importance of the unique showcase factor highlighted each year in the Association’s Explorers Pass Hilltop Tent as part of the festival’s ability to attract the new and retain the old. “For those customers who aren’t able to do the trails, or get out to the smaller wineries, it introduces them to a local agricultural product they never would have found otherwise,” he said.
Sometimes though, it’s hard to remember the festival is a celebration of an agricultural product which changes every year. Thanks to the festival’s lawn party atmosphere, it often feels far away from the agriculture it promotes,” acknowledged Korando, “but it’s really not. One of the best things about this festival is a lot of winemakers are here in person, and they know and can tell people what’s going on in their vineyards,” she said.
One of those winemakers was Tom Shelton of Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery in Eden, Md., who, during a tasting session at his tent, encouraged Elletson to try his Chambourcin with the smoked cheddar cheese from Whispering Breeze Farm, one of the four creameries also offering tastings of local Maryland agricultural products at the festival. In between the tasting pairings, Shelton and his Territory Manager, Brad lager, discussed the vineyard’s production and how their fruit tonnage varied not only from year to year, but also their management of it.
In an ongoing echo of everyone else, Lager noted that “crop production has been excellent this year.” In short, with apologies to the classic Sinatra song, as vintage wine, 2019 will be a very good year.
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