Harvest 2018: Whites, Reds & Rain

Harvest 2018: Whites, Reds & Rain

Rain. Every farmer’s gleeful dream or worst nightmare.

All throughout history and all across the globe, civilizations pray desperately for rain to fall on parched land or they beg for it to cease… 

With us being rooted in Maryland (and all our Mid-Atlantic friends will say “amen!” to this…) we have a “finicky” relationship with rain and weather - we are blessed in that we experience the beauty of all four seasons to the fullest, but at the same time the weather here can have extreme shifts - changing at the drop of the hat. 

No two springs are the same.

No two summers are the same.

Which means that each fall when harvest comes around… all our harvests are most definitely never the same.

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This year’s biggest hurdle has been, you guessed it, the rain.

The good news is that the majority of Hurricane Florence stayed south of us (our best goes out to our friends in the Carolinas and Virginia!)… but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have an abundance of rain this past season.

At this point, we're not changing our plans in any significant way as a result of the rain. We've harvested a significant percentage of our grapes for white wine, pét nat and rosé over the past couple of weeks. We're happy to report everything looks and, more importantly, tastes pretty good to this point in the vintage.

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So, what's behind our good fortune? Well, no simple answer will suffice, but I think three main things contributed: 

1) Our people.

It's often said that good fortune resides at the intersection of preparation and patience… throughout the past year we have worked diligently and skillfully to find just the right individuals to add to our growing team - we haven’t rushed… we’ve waded and sifted through countless resumes and applications… it’s through that patience and diligence that we have created a team with a unified mission, value, and drive to create remarkable products worthy of the OWW label.

We cannot thank our team enough.

2) Our partners.

We are blessed to work with a band of hard-working and conscientious farmers. Their goal, like ours, is to produces grapes -- and subsequently wine -- worth celebrating. In addition to our home vineyard, we work closely with neighboring vineyards to source grapes. Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and others from Cool Ridge Vineyard perched atop a limestone hillside on South Mountain. Pinot Grigio, Viognier and Cabernet Franc from the Libertas Estate situated on a magnificent, rocky hillside in Mt Airy. Chardonnay and Muscat from the sandy, well-drained soils at Turkey Point Vineyard in North East. Our multi-vineyard, Maryland-grown approach allows us to craft wines that reflect our region’s diverse geologies and variable climate.

3) New sustainable farming practices.

We're in the process of piloting a new sustainability certification process on the east coast. Currently there are no SIP (Sustainability In Practice) certified vineyards on the east coast. It's a California based program aimed at preserving and protecting the natural environment, treating employees and the community with care, and having sound business practices with a long-term view that protects both the present and the future. For us, this involved no herbicides – we manage undervine weeds manually; no synthetic insecticides – we use stylet oil, kaolin clay organic, biological materials to manage japanese beetles, fruit flies, mites, etc.; minimal fungicides – we stylet oil, copper, sulfur, and phosphoric acid to manage powdery mildew, downy mildew, phomopsis, botrytis, etc.; biodynamics – last year we started incorporating biodynamic preparations into our farm. In particular, BD508 was in every spray we used this year and it seems to have worked some magic! BD508 is a biodynamic preparation also known as Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense) Preparation. It is a ferment or ‘tea’ style preparation that is applied direct to the soil and plant. It's traditionally used to control or limit fungal growth, especially powdery and downy mildew. It is both a preventative and curative preparation.

So with all that being said, here’s the lowdown on the grapes:

REDS

Looking ahead, we are mostly concerned about the reds -- ripening is going to be tricky… As a result, we're switching up our program to focus more on carbonic/juicy style reds this season. These styles are much better suited to fruit with lower phenolic ripeness, lower sugar content and higher natural acidity. We've even got a new 1,500 gal foeder to break in with whole-cluster CF next week. :)

WHITES

As for our whites, they're in great shape. Harvest began with a bang on Labor Day weekend. Chardonnay and Albarino came in with good yields and chemistries. Pinot Gris, Viognier and Riesling were a bit light (mostly due to rain during bloom), but the flavors and character more than made up for the loss in volume. The theme of this season's crop is lower than normal yields, moderate natural acidity and sugar levels. The fermentations are ticking away wildly and the aromas and flavors are vibrant… We have much to be thankful for!

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So as you can see, it has been an eventful season thus far… but we are on the up and up! We are expectant and excited to share our newest products with you soon; thank you for your continued support. Stay tuned for more updates!

Until next time; cheers!

Mind Share Project: Old Westminster + Aslin Beer

Mind Share Project: Old Westminster + Aslin Beer

A fundamental goal here at Old Westminster Winery is to put Maryland on the map. Maryland's diverse landscape, dynamic community, and business curiosity offer boundless possibilities for the creation of unique products and experiences.

We're not only passionate about creating forward-thinking, high-quality wines, but also collaborating with like-minded brands and businesses - joining forces to create avant-garde products.

Our intellectual curiosity and itch to challenge the status quo has given life to a new collaborative series we’re dubbing the Mind Share Project. The premise is simple: team up with our friends and create delicious, non-traditional hybrids of wine/beer/cider/spirits/kombucha, etc.! And we’re traveling all over the county in the process. After all, getting outside of our borders is vital to our vision for proselytizing Maryland’s bounty near and far!

Enter Alsin Beer Co.

Aslin Beer Co. is a distinguished brewery situated just across the Potomac River in Herndon, VA. We're excited to announce that our first Mind Share Project is in the works with these fine folks. Stay tuned for more info on what we're brewing (and fermenting!) this fall! 

Our Newest, Old-School Toy

Our Newest, Old-School Toy

Here at Old Westminster, we are passionate believers in tradition and innovation - in combining these two contrasting perspectives we get to exercise our experimental creativity... and that keeps us excited. We pride ourselves on creating beautiful, unique, and flavorful wines that embody timeless tradition infused with modern-day, new-world flair. With that being said, we’d like to introduce you to the newest, old-school toy here at OW: the amphora.

WHAT IS AN AMPHORA?

An amphora is a type of vessel that dates back as early as the Neolithic Period and is characterized by its size and shape (a small base, large, cylindrical body, and elongated spout) and two large handles. Traditionally, amphorae are handspun on large pottery wheels and are made of terra cotta (clay-based), giving them a strong red/brown/orange color.

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During the amphora production process, the body of the vessel is spun first then left to dry. Once dry, large coils of clay are added to form the neck, rim and handles. With all the details complete, the  porous vessel is ready for the makers use. 

Amphorae have historically been used to transport various products - both liquid and dry - but have most popularly been used for wine (we think for good reason). The vessel assists in the fermentation and aging process for both red and white wines and can be buried in the ground to help regulate the overall temperature. 

RETIRING CLAY, HIRING OAK.

Clay vessels of all kinds were the golden standard of winemaking in ancient Rome and Greece - not only because it predated wooden storage, but also because clay was easy to produce and took less time to create than wood. While clay vessels have many positive attributes. Wine Folly explains amphorae beautifully: “The porosity of the clay increases the oxygen exposure to wines while they age. Oxygen accelerates flavor development which includes softening tannins and increasing aromas of nuts, baked fruit, and chocolate.” However, the negative attributes of the amphorae ultimately lead to its downfall - its overall weight and breakability made it increasingly impractical to transport as trade developed and increased. With that, the age of resilient wooden barrels was born.

Wooden barrels, especially oak, became more and more popular over the centuries not only because of their strength and transportability, but because of the flavors and tannins the oak brought to the wines that it carried.

Oak wood is made up of a multitude of complex chemical compounds - each contributing flavor or textural notes to red and white wines. It’s by aging wines in oak barrels that you are able to experience flavors of vanilla, tea, tobacco and the textural “mouth feel” of hydrolysable tannins.

BRINGING IT BACK.

As wine making methods became more and more advanced, wooden barrel aging and stainless steel aging became industry standard for making some of the most popular style of wines on the market…

So why bring back the use of an amphora?

Well, because great wine is the sum of many details. Not a simple linear sequence: farming, fermentation, aging, and bottling. We are peering deeper into the sequence to find more... history, innovation, context. To our minds, this amphora is a tool in that continuum. 

We can't help but get excited thinking about how this 200-gallon clay vessel that we'll be fermenting fruit in this fall is just how the Etruscan's would have made wine in the 7th century BC!

OUR PERFECT RECIPE

What are we going to be making, you might ask?

The answer is: Ramato! That is, skin-contact Pinot Grigio.

When we say Pinot Grigio, many of you are picturing a straightforward white wine. However, Pinot Grigio has grey/copper colored skins which, when the juice is soaked with the skins, gives the wine a deep amber color. How many of you have tasted our Alius, or Seeds & Skins?

Italian winemakers have used Pinot Grigio to make Ramato in amphora for millenia. This project is a perfect way for us to put a modern, local spin on an ancient tradition. And we're excited to do just that.

Stay tuned for more!

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Summer In A Can

Summer In A Can

We’re on a mission to make delicious, well-crafted wine more accessible. And we believe people deserve to enjoy wines they love with people they love, anywhere. 

Accessibility is one thing; the palate is another. We’ll settle for nothing less than delicious, fun, and Maryland to the core. Our vision came to life on November 1, 2017 when we became the first winery in the Mid-Atlantic to can our wines. And not just any wines – wines that are true to our principles: 100% local & natural. All the grapes are grown right here in Maryland, fermented on our farm with native wild yeast and canned on-site without filtration or "makeup."

In a recent story on The Vintner Project, Lenn Thompson wrote: “They [Old Westminster Winery] are canning some of the best canned wine you’ll find anywhere. They are constantly trying new things and seeing what “sticks.” Maryland is a state on the rise in the wine world, and [winemaker] Lisa (with her family) is one of the people leading the way.”

Our vision for the new cans remains the same.  These wines are intended for true wine-lovers on the go – living life to the fullest and enjoying delicious and expressive wines along the way.

Here’s a rundown on our new lineup of wild, unfiltered canned wines: 

Nitro Rosé 

This revolutionary nitro-infused sparkling rosé is a blend of 58% Syrah, 30% Chambourcin, 6% Malbec, and 6% Chardonnay. This wine is the first of its kind in the world – born from a desire to play with the texture of the bubbles in sparkling wine. It’s carbonated with CO2 in tank and then receives a dose of nitrogen directly in the can – resulting in softer, frothier texture. It’s characterized by aromas of red plum, red currant, black cherry, fresh cut grass and tarragon.  Bright acid plays nicely with the creamy nitro texture.  On the palate, notes of cranberries, wild herbs and flowers.  Pair this wine with anything off the grill on a hot summer day.

Pip & Berry 

This sparkling rosé wine & cider blend is comprised of 30% Merlot, 30% Chambourcin, and 40% Stayman Winesap apples. That’s right: wine + barrel-fermented apple cider. It’s bright, refreshing and bubbly. This is a collaboration of locally grown fruits, fermented with native yeast, blended creatively and canned without fining or filtration! This mashup offers aromas of tart cranberry, red cherry, pomegranate, and fresh yellow and red apples. On the palate, the fruit stays red with a clearer presence of the crisp and clean cider.  Pair with sharp cheese and cannonballs in the deep end!

Crush 

This refreshing, slightly off-dry (4.5g/L for those keeping score) white wine is a blend of 67% Chardonnay, 28% Vidal Blanc, and 5% Muscat. This wine offers aromas of juicy peach, mandarin orange, white nectarine and yellow pear.  On the palate, lemon pith and peel, drippy Clementine, a sunny beach and red apples.  This wine offers a broad and full palate with a creamy texture.  Pair with steamed blue crabs or with a campfire and good friends.

Farm Fizz 

This mouthwatering sparkling white wine is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 25% Chardonel, and 5% Vidal Blanc. This wine offers aromas of lemon peel, sea spray, creamy lees aromas, green mango, tart guava, and spring lily.  Bright lime and lemon juice upfront on the palate, with green apple peel, wonderfully fizzy texture and a long mineral citrus peel finish.  Pair with summer corn on the cob with butter and fresh grilled zucchini.

Cask & Cluster 

This bold barrel-aged red wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Chambourcin. With aromas of dark ripe plum, red and black raspberry, tart blackberry and the forest floor, this wine showcases beautiful acidity in the form of cranberry and white cherries with moderate, elegant tannins on the palate.  Pair with pork or beef skewers fresh from the grill, and enjoy with your friends and family.

Nitro Rosé. Pip & Berry. Crush. Farm Fizz. Cask & Cluster!

These new cans are coming to a wine shop near you (list below) on Friday, June 22!

Here's a list of our partners in other states:

DC & VA: Distributed by Siema Wines

NY, NJ, PA: Distributed by MFW Wine Co.

MA: Distributed by Mise Wines

NC & SC: Distributed by Advintage

CA: Distributed by Revel Wine

Follow us on Facebook & Instagram for breaking news and release info.

 Don't see your favorite local shop on our list? Let us know! 

Don't see your favorite local shop on our list? Let us know! 

East Coast Biodynamic Workshop

East Coast Biodynamic Workshop

Some things about a vineyard site can’t be easily improved. Like soil type and topography. But there are certainly things that can be enriched – like biodiversity and soil resiliency – through thoughtful farming practices. Such as biodynamics.

Biodynamics is the original organic agricultural movement. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and animals as ecologically interrelated tasks. I wrote more about that here.

On July 27-28, we’re hosting the first east coast vineyard-specific biodynamic workshop. 

To help guide our program, we're welcoming Joseph Brinkley to Maryland. Joseph is a viticulturist, biodynamic specialist and the director of vineyard operations at Bonterra – the nation’s largest organic winery and Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 American Winery of the Year.

We met Joseph a little more than a year ago when we welcomed him to our team to help guide the development of Burnt Hill.

We’re thrilled to have Joseph share his vast knowledge with east coast vignerons.

BIODYNAMICS FOR VINEYARDS: Vineyard Management Practices in Relation to Soil Health & the Biodynamic Preparations is a two-day workshop which includes lectures and field work focusing on overall soil health and a balanced farm system.

Lectures and experiential learning will focus on overall soil health and a balanced farm system, which can be achieved through the following areas: cover cropping, compost, biodiversity, and biodynamic field sprays.

  • Cover Crops: The four primary plant types (legume, grass/small grain, brassica, flower) and the value of diverse plantings.
  • Compost: Using high quality ‘ingredients’ and biodynamic preparations (BD 502-507) to enliven soil. Sourcing the best materials from your locale and the proper way of mixing and handling these materials to ensure that your compost is of the highest quality. 
  • Biodiversity: Increasing plant and animal biodiversity with animals, trees, meadows, etc. – while creating functionality and beauty with multiple layers of benefit.
  • BD Field Sprays: The biodynamic preparations and their ideal timings, stirring, and application methods in order to bring overall health to the farm.

You’ll come away with practical information to incorporate into your own vineyard.

Save The Dates! Friday, July 27 - Saturday, July 28, 2018, 9am to 5pm each day.

This is a hands-on workshop – with only 40 spaces available.

Cost is $200 ($150 for MWA & MGGA members)

Cru Club Wine Release - May 2018

Cru Club Wine Release - May 2018

Lisa and Joey sit down to talk about the exciting May 2018 Cru Club Allocation:

  • 2017 Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2017 Muscat
  • Rev Fourth Edition

Join them as they discuss all the nuances of nose, palette, and pairings!

What is Cru? It is a grade of wine or vineyard of recognized quality. Old Westminster always extends an open invitation to join The CRU, a community that enjoys wines with a sense of place. Members help blend a special red wine called Cru Cuvée each year -- wine blended by members for members. For more information on becoming a cru club member, click here.

Cru Cuvée Blending Event 2018

Cru Cuvée Blending Event 2018

Check out this behind-the-scenes video of our Cru Cuvée Blending Event held right here at Old Westminster Winery.

"Cru" is a grade of wine or vineyard, especially one of recognized quality. Old Westminster invites you to join "The CRU"  -- a community of members who enjoy wines with a sense of place.

One of the benefits of membership is that members are invited to help blend a special red wine called Cru Cuvée once a year. It’s wine blended by club members for club members.

Other member advantages include 10% discount on all wine purchases, up to four complimentary tastings at the winery each visit, preferred access to small production wines, and of course, annual "En primeur" tastings.

For more information on becoming a cru club member, click here.

Our Cans: Delicious, Fun, and Maryland to the Core

Our Cans: Delicious, Fun, and Maryland to the Core

I have to admit – we had a moment of apprehension when we first thought to introduce canned wine into the marketplace. But we also recognized the potential for making delicious wine more accessible and unencumbered – for life’s adventures – and we believe people deserve to enjoy wines they love with people they love, anywhere. 

Accessibility is one thing. The palate is another. And we settled for nothing less than delicious, fun, and Maryland to the core. Our vision came to life on November 1, 2017, we became the first winery in the Mid-Atlantic to can wine. And not just any wine. Wines that are true to our principles: 100% local & natural. All the grapes are grown right here in Maryland, fermented on our farm with wild yeast and canned on-site without filtration or "makeup."

Fast forward four months to our second canning run and our core belief remains the same: these wines are intended for true wine-lovers on the go – living life to the full and enjoying delicious and expressive wines along the way. And I have to admit that these new gems exceeded even my own expectations. 

Here’s a rundown on our new lineup of wild, unfiltered canned wines: 

Farmer Fizz Rosé

This delectable sparkling rosé is a blend of Maryland-grown Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, and Petit Verdot. This wine is characterized by wonderfully fine bubbles, pleasant red fruit aromas, refreshingly light texture and crisp acidity. This Sparkling Rosé pairs with nearly everything! Think oysters on the half shelf, chargrilled salmon, sushi and anything on the Sunday brunch menu! 

Raw Rosé

This mouthwatering rosé is a blend of Maryland-grown Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, and Petit Verdot. Characterized by vibrant aromas of cherry, rhubarb, watermelon and rose petals, pleasantly soft texture and zippy acidity. Pair this wine with barbecued ribs, lobster roll, Chesapeake bay crab cakes, pan seared scallops, or simply enjoy it on the patio with friends! 

Vine & Vigor

This refreshing dry white wine is a blend of Maryland-grown Chardonnay, Viognier, Chardonel and Vidal Blanc. This wine offers aromas of golden delicious apples, mandarin orange peel, orange starburst, white flowers and mineral notes. On the palate, lively texture, bracing acidity and a lingering finish. Pair this wine with grilled fish, a slice of watermelon, and anything with fresh avocados, tomatoes, onions, olives and feta cheese. 

Bloom

This delicious semi-sweet white wine is a blend of Maryland-grown Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Muscat. This wine offers aromas of peaches, pears, mango and other tropical fruit with a touch of white flowers; baby’s breath and hydrangeas. On the palate, candied oranges, lemon-lime soda, green apples and soft, silky texture. Pair this wine with anything from the Chesapeake Bay – think crab cakes, oysters, shrimp salad, or sunny days by the water. On a sweeter side, enjoy it with desserts with fresh fruits, honey, crepes, tarts or even bread pudding. 

Farmer Fizz Rosé. Raw Rosé. Vine & Vigor. Bloom!

These new cans are coming to a wine shop near you on April 1! #nojoke

Follow us on Facebook & Instagram for breaking news and release info.

2018 Bottling Day!

2018 Bottling Day!

Rise and shine! It's Spring 2018 Bottling Day at Old Westminster Winery! 

Ever wonder how they get ships in bottles? So do we. And we have no idea. But we can tell you how we get this year's releases into our bottles so you can enjoy these wines all season long! 

Join us -- take a peak into our bottling process -- it'll give you a deeper appreciation for all that goes into each and every bottle of delicious Old Westminster wine. 

The sparkling wine you’ve never heard of.

The sparkling wine you’ve never heard of.

The sparkling wine you’ve never heard of.

In keeping with our love of putting local spins on classic European traditions – and our love of bubbles – we're making col fondo this spring.

That’s right. Col fondo!  

Col fondo is the O.G. of Prosecco

Prosecco is a sparkling Italian wine best served chilled and enjoyed on the patio with friends. It’s a ubiquitous go-to.

Today, most Prosecco is unfortunately mass-produced in a tank-fermented style designed to satisfy the modern demand for clear, fresh, easy bubbles. It’s become a generally homogeneous commodity manufactured by big firms. A real shame considering what it once was.

Col fondo is the real Prosecco. It’s the traditional, rustic sparkling wine made by Italian farmers for centuries prior to the tank method. And we think it’s prime for a renaissance.

Backstory

Our recent pétillant naturel (pét nat) wines have opened a path to new ideas. If you haven’t heard of pét nat, imagine Champagne’s hipster cousin. On summer vacation. It’s a naturally sparkling wine that’s handmade, raw, fizzy, a mix of clouds and sun, and thirst-quenchingly delicious. We wrote all about it last year and you can get that article here.

Experimentation is at the heart of our progression as winemakers. We set out on our journey simply imitating wines we liked. Over time, we began to develop our own style. And now, we’re evolving beyond it.

Our success with pét nat has inspired us to a new challenge: col fondo.

Col fondo, Maryland-style

If you love sparkling wine and authentic products, you’ll adore col fondo. And you’ll have a chance to get your hands on some real soon – Old Westminster style.  

Col fondo (“with its bottom” or “with sediment”), is an unfiltered, buzzy, effervescent bottle-fermented expression of Prosecco. And yep, it’s deliciously dirty.

With its second fermentation occurring in the bottle, col fondo (like Champagne) is drier and way more complex than most modern Prosecco. Unlike Champage, col fondo isn’t riddled and disgorged and never receives a dosage. Like pét nat, it’s served with sediment still in the bottom of the bottle.

It too will prove to be a summer fave. So make sure you stay in tune to get the low-down on our progress and coming release dates.

Something magical happens when history and tradition merge with locality and innovation. Like pét nat. And now, like col fondo.

Salute!

Our CANS Featured in Baltimore Style

Our CANS Featured in Baltimore Style

Sometimes it’s good to break from old norms. Sometimes it makes sense. When access to great wine is hindered by “we’ve always done it that way,” we have to ask ourselves, why wouldn’t we fix that?

It’s 2018 for crying out loud.  

Like say for instance you’re going hiking or on a romantic picnic. Or camping. Or a day at the beach. You want exceptional wine for the occasion, yes? Of course. But all of the paraphernalia gets to be a hassle for those settings. Corkscrews and stemware aren’t always convenient. And when the occasion is right, why allow anything to come between you and perfectly delicious wine?

So we came up with a counterintuitive solution.

Cans.

Since no winery in Maryland – or Virginia, or Pennsylvania – has ever canned wine before, of course we had to challenge the why of that. So we got busy making delicious wines accessible, travel-friendly, and ready to enjoy – anytime, anywhere.

But this isn't just about cans. Our cans are for wine lovers, adventurous souls, and those who seek out unique experiences. Canned wine has been done elsewhere before, but they're mostly mass-produced wines.

So we wanted to can wines that inspire you. So we did.

Jessica Gregg, in the latest edition of Baltimore Style, puts it this way:

“The perfect pairing for winter bonfires, summer picnics and fall tailgates has made its way to local shelves – wine in a can. Old Westminster Winery, the family-run vineyard that began bottling wine in 2013 and quickly made a name for itself, is now the first in the Mid-Atlantic to uncork, literally, this trend. ‘We don’t think wine should be reserved for dinner parties, celebratory gatherings or restaurant experiences,’ vigneron and winery founder Drew Baker says. ‘Glass bottles, corkscrews and stemware have all too often hindered us from drinking the wines we want to drink. We felt it was time to change that.’ Old Westminster offers three canned choices: Farmer Fizz, a sparkling Chardonnay; Carbonic, a Cabernet Franc; and Seeds & Skins, a skin-fermented Pinot Gris. Within a week of hitting the market, the cans were sold out on the winery’s website, but are available at select wine and liquor stores (STYLE staff found it Kenilworth Wine & Spirits). More local love: Baltimore artist Rebecca Smith designed the labels and Elkridge-based River City Cannery put the product in its portable containers. We predict something this fun and flavorful will change up the menu matching, and for once, send diners for the right foods to pair with their wine.”

Get the full story here: http://baltimorestyle.com/heating-up-2018/

Blending Day at Old Westminster Winery

Blending Day at Old Westminster Winery

Blending is a way to create wines that are more delicious than the sum of its parts. The reason we blend is to create distinctive wines that are balanced, reflect the vineyard and vintage, and of course, are a pleasure to drink.

When we sat down to the blending table this past weekend, there were four of us: Lisa, Ashli, Lucien Guillemet (our enological consultant) and me. Lucien is the winemaker at Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, a Grand Cru Classé Château in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux, France. He visits Maryland twice a year to taste, deliberate, and blend. His expertise acts as a sounding board – multiple skilled palates are a key to the successful blending process. 

In this video, Ashli takes us behind the scenes of the blending process at Old Westminster Winery! Are you excited to taste these new wines? 

 

The Art & Science of Blending Wine

The Art & Science of Blending Wine

Great wine is the sum of many details. Most people see a simple linear sequence: farming, fermentation, aging, and bottling. But true wine lovers peer deeper into the sequence and see more... 

Great wine is realized at the 3-way intersection of art, science, and hard work. 

Blending is a medium for creating a wine that is more delicious than the sum of its parts. The reason we blend is to create distinctive wines that are balanced, reflect the vineyard and vintage, and of course, are a pleasure to drink.

In the cellar, our winemaker Lisa Hinton and her talented team are careful to preserve the integrity of each lot of grapes and subsequently the wine to preserve its unique personality. Every barrel of wine is much like a puzzle-piece belonging to a beautiful and nuanced landscape -- a single thread woven throughout a brilliant tapestry. 

When we sat down to the blending table this past weekend, there were four of us: Lisa, Ashli, Lucien Guillemet (our enological consultant) and me. Lucien is the winemaker at Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, a Grand Cru Classé Château in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux, France. He visits Maryland twice a year to taste, deliberate, and blend. His expertise acts as a sounding board – multiple skilled palates are a key to the successful blending process. 

Each year we improve individually and as a team. We build on past experiences. We labor over the nuances. We sweat the details. We seek greatness. We taste and reflect on past vintages in a concerted effort to refine a vision for the next vintage. 

Outfitted with a few wine glasses, a pipette, a graduated cylinder -- and a spittoon -- we set out to assemble our Magnum Opus – our greatest work.

We taste each lot separately and take detailed notes on aromas, flavors, structure, and overall quality. We consider our goals for each blend and start blending a few wines we suspect will “play well together.”

We again take detailed notes. We tweak the blend. We ask, "Do you like the direction this wine is going?" We continue to adjust the percentages of each wine in the blend until we find proportions that sing – it’s often quite obvious! 

For example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are the usual suspects. These varieties are often blended – each variety bringing a unique characteristic to the table.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon contributes full-bodied wines with generous tannins and acidity that contributes to the wines’ aging potential

  • Merlot is full-bodied with lush, velvety tannins, plump texture, intense black fruit

  • Cabernet Franc contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends

  • Petit Verdot contributes abundant tannin, inky color, and violet and leather aromas to the blend

Blending each of these varieties in just the right proportions is essential to creating truly stunning wines.

The blending process isn’t finished until every individual lot has its home in a stunning wine. Rough blends are typically compiled over a few long days.

We then revisit these wines over the ensuing weeks, hypothesize, and make adjustments. We then share finished but-not-yet-bottled blends with our staff, friends, customers, and sommeliers for feedback.

Over the past five years, we have honed our blending skills and are quite proud of this year’s results. We can’t wait to share the fruits of our labor with you later this spring!

Burgundy's Saint Vincent Festival... In Westminster, Maryland!

Burgundy's Saint Vincent Festival... In Westminster, Maryland!

Each January in Burgundy, France, locals celebrate the Festival of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of winegrowers. The celebration takes place in a different winegrowing village each year. Saint Vincent celebrations attract tens of thousands of people over the weekend. Visitors pay to tour the village where local winegrowers have opened their cellars for wine tasting, and join in the fun.

In the town square, the houses are decorated with paper mache flowers and many of the locals dress up in costumes from eras past. It's quirky. And beautiful. Winemakers pour special bottles of wine and offer samples of future vintages straight from the barrel. 

We decided to bring this tradition to Maryland! So on January 27-28, 2018, The Saint Vincent festival took place in the rolling hills of Westminster, Maryland. Get a little taste of Burgundy in this video! 

Cru Club Wine Release – February 2018

Cru Club Wine Release – February 2018

Every season has its own unique charm in the vineyard. Winter is no exception. From pruning dormant vines to caring for aging wines, there’s much to do. The vineyard may appear lifeless, but there’s tremendous energy beneath the surface preparing to burst with vitality. Vision, art, process – and especially winemaking – are all things that never rest. To this end, we’re excited to announce the first Cru Club allocation of 2018!

Reflecting Back & Looking Ahead

Reflecting Back & Looking Ahead

We have a simple mission: to put Maryland wine on the map. That makes it important for us to be fully aware of everything we do and how it plays into the bigger picture. The beginning of a new year is always a great time to reflect back and look ahead.

On New Year's Day, our family got together for our annual big picture meeting. We discussed everything from farming practices to winemaking techniques, new product ideas, finances, staffing, and events. What’s working, what’s not and where can we do better were the common questions regardless of the topic.

The only rules at our family meetings are:

  • Allow everyone to contribute

  • Be open-minded

  • Don’t interrupt the person speaking

  • Don’t start sentences with “No”

  • Be respectful

  • Cell phones off

  • Capture decisions and action items

At the end of the meeting we talked about what we were most proud of from the year past, and what we were looking forward to sharing with our community in the year ahead. That’s what we want to share with you.

2017 achievements

1. Top 101 Winery in America – For the second year in a row, we’ve found our name on this prestigious list. We honestly still can’t believe it. The number 87 winery in America is truly humbling given that there are nearly 9,000 wineries across all 50 states. To put that in perspective, Old Westminster Winery is in the top 1%. We’re happy that the criteria is rigorous and that any winery that makes the list has to pass tough muster. It’s an honor to make the cut. Here’s a link to the article and the complete list: 101 Best Wineries in America

2. Wine On A Mission – Shortly after hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas, we started a campaign to support the victims. This project quickly grew to include those affected by subsequent hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico. Our hearts broke for those faced with the epic task of rebuilding their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. We earmarked $1 of every bottle of wine we sold for the relief effort and ultimately donated $10,000 to The Red Cross hurricane relief efforts.

3. Featured in Wine Enthusiast – The Old Line State isn’t all that old in wine years. And it certainly isn’t known in the grand world history of wine. But that’s changing. And it’s always been our intent to be a part of the evolution. Fast forward to now. Wine Enthusiast just published an article that offers our little state a long-awaited nod of approval: “At 370 years old, the winemaking industry in Maryland is ready for prime time.” Minds... blown. Maryland is coming of age right before our eyes. And we’re so honored to be considered a “top winery” along with so many others that are doing things the right way. See the full story here: Maryland Wine Hits National Newsstands

4. Baltimore’s Best Winery – Every year, Baltimore Magazine publishes a list celebrating all things awesome in the Baltimore region. This year, we were honored with the title of Best Winery. The magazine wrote: “When three siblings are a farmer, a chemist, and a marketing whiz, the logical next step is to open a winery. Our ideal Friday night is sipping on fizzy Pét-Nat Albariño and listening to live music outside the beautiful tasting room.” See the full list here: Best of Baltimore 2017

5. Can Project – Everything we do at Old Westminster Winery focuses on making the best wines we can and challenging the status quo. In that spirit of innovation... we CANNED WINE. And not just any wine. These wines are true to our vision: 100% local & natural. Aaron Menenberg, founder at Good Vitis, said of our canned project: “Old Westminster, for all the fun they have, only put out serious wine, even if it’s playful.” Read more here: Noteworthy Maryland Wine... In a Can.

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New Year; new goals. It’s challenging to lay out all of our goals for 2018 in a single post, so instead we’ll share a few things we’re most excited about in the coming months:

2018 HIGHLIGHTS

1. Saint Vincent Wine Festival – We're putting a Maryland spin on an ancient Burgundian tradition! Each January, wine lovers travel to Burgundy, France to celebrate Saint Vincent, the Patron Saint of Wine. On January 27-28, 2018, The Saint Vincent Wine Festival will take place in the rolling hills of Westminster, Maryland! Join us for a festive weekend featuring winery tours, barrel sampling, live music, seasonal fare and roaring fire pits. Tickets are limited – get yours HERE!

2. New Pét-Nats – If you’ve been following us over the past couple of years, you know we’re ALL IN on pét-nats. Not only because it’s delicious and refreshing, but also because it’s natural and transparent. Pét-nat is an all-but-forgotten style of sparkling wine that made its debut in France’s Loire Valley half a millennia ago. Unlike its showy cousin, the Champagne method, which is precise and calculated, pét-nat is wild and spontaneous. That’s why we love it. This year we’ll be introducing new varieties into our repertoire. Think Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Albariño. Stay tuned!

3. En Primeur, Maryland-style – We’re pleased to present a modern twist on a centuries-old Bordeaux concept. Cru members are invited to join us for an exclusive opportunity to taste and purchase new wines before they’re released to the market. During this 2-hour wine immersion, we will acquaint you to the diverse Maryland vineyards where the grapes are grown and Lisa will explain the particulars of each wine by illuminating the different processes and characteristics in the glass. Look for the first En Primeur event the weekend of March 17-18. Stay tuned for more details.

4. New Tasting Room Events – We believe that the only way to truly appreciate great wine is through a personal experience. And that’s why everything we do at our tasting room is centered on our overarching goal to connect our community to the land through a glass of wine. Join us to taste delicious, Maryland-grown wines and a variety of local cheeses, charcuterie, soups, and other seasonal fare – we support local farmers by sourcing local ingredients. We also love to showcase local musicians, artists, and chefs. From Food Truck Friday to Sunday Funday, it’s all about the wine. Wine that displays complexity, character, and – most importantly – is a pleasure to drink. So pack up some lawn chairs this spring and join us in the country for a relaxing, fun-filled experience.

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So here we are at the very start of a new year. Now is the time to prepare for a new phase in our growth. As local farmers and artisans, we absolutely love to share the fruit of the land with you. We can’t wait to see you at Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard this year!

Happy New Year!

The Saint Vincent Wine Festival Comes to Westminster!

The Saint Vincent Wine Festival Comes to Westminster!

This time three years ago my wife Casey and I were planning our trip to France.

One renowned region we were particularly excited to visit was Burgundy. We would call the small, beautiful town of Beaune home for several enlightening days.

From there we would travel the surrounding countryside visiting wineries and tasting many of the most sought-after wines in the world. A wine lover's aha experience and a vigneron’s paradise.

It was mid-January, just 10 days before we left for France and we only had one appointment scheduled in Burgundy. All the wineries we wanted to visit require an appointment -- which are sometimes difficult to schedule. The region I was most excited about was eluding us even before we arrived. Winery after winery told us that they weren’t offering appointments while we were in town. Then, the winemaker from Domaine Bertagna, a premier cru vineyard in Vougeot, was kind enough to give us the full scoop in an email:

“The cellar will not be open on Jan 24-25th because of the Saint Vincent celebration taking place in Vougeot. We are quite busy decorating the village and the domaine. This is a big event where people walk through the villages to discover and taste special Saint Vincent cuvees. I encourage you and your wife to attend this event. All are welcome.”

Wow, what great timing! So I started doing my research on Saint Vincent and here’s what I learned.

Each January in Burgundy, locals celebrate the Festival of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of winegrowers. The Festival is organized by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the brotherhood of Burgundy winegrowers). The celebration takes place in a different winegrowing village each year and includes a morning a procession of members of the Confrérie and local winegrowers, a mass hosted by the Grand Council of the Order, and a celebration of the President for the Saint Vincent village of that year. Saint Vincent celebrations attract tens of thousands of people over the weekend. Visitors pay to tour the village where local winegrowers have opened their cellars for wine tasting, and join in the fun.

We woke up on the morning of the Saint Vincent Festival to a cold snowy day in Beaune. At breakfast, we shared our plans to attend the festival with our Bed & Breakfast host. She assured us that the festival would be worth the effort no matter what the weather is like.

So we bundled up and drove 20 minutes from Beaune to the hosting village of Vougeot. As we arrived, the streets were teeming with people. The energy and enthusiasm of the celebration was palpable. Everyone was bundled up and ready to have fun celebrating great wine.

Moreover, in the town square, the houses were decorated with paper mache flowers and many of the locals dressed up in costumes from eras past. It was quirky and beautiful. The snow continued to fall. Winemakers poured special bottles of wine and offered samples of future vintages straight from the barrel. It was so much fun that in that very moment I told my wife that we need to bring this tradition to Maryland.

And so we are...

On January 27-28, 2018 The Saint Vincent festival will take place in the rolling hills of Westminster, Maryland.

Will you join us?


Here are some pictures from our trip...

The Burnt Hill Project: Chapter 1

The Burnt Hill Project: Chapter 1

We are chasing a dream to do something pretty much unheard of – to put Maryland wine on the world map. Sounds crazy, right? The Burnt Hill Project is a new chapter in our story and we'd love to have you come along for the ride! Here's some recent footage of a new and emerging iconic vineyard. 

Taking Time To Get It Right

Taking Time To Get It Right

It was a sunny November morning on the farm – garnished with a crisp breeze at a refreshing 40 degrees. Or what I like to call perfect work weather.  

Thanksgiving Eve was here, so the team met up at Burnt Hill. Fresh and ready for work were Lisa, Ashli, Casey & me, as well as Joey Fox, Jack Wells, and Ian Mansfield. We got started at 8:00 with coffee and another of our little strategic talks – swirled around biodynamics. What is it? Why is it important?

I wrote about it at length in a recent piece, Fostering a Relationship with the Land.

We talked about the biodynamic field spray we’d be applying – and also about timing, our tight-knit community, and all our collective energies. Ian spoke up at one point and said, “This is like a farm christening.” And he was exactly right!

There is something sacred about our human relationship with the land.

Coffee down, we all went to gather tools needed. Since our plan was to spread the field spray by hand, we collected branches from a nearby cedar tree – the perfect tool to dip in our bucket and broadcast mix to the ground. From there we filled our buckets with the activated mix, piled in the pickup truck and caravanned to the top of Burnt Hill.

Once atop we all stood in a circle – facing outwards, back-to-back – and each claimed the slice of land in front of them as their “zone.” Like a big pie. We each went out a step at a time, casting our elixir to the ground. Everyone had their own technique – Lisa, Casey, Joey and I were charged with covering the western side of the hill with the wind in our face. Lisa and I walked all the way to the bottom of the hill and worked our way back up, wind behind us. Casey and Joey opted to work into the wind, but zigzagging so as to not get covered with the compost mist. Which is a really good move. Jack, Ian, and Ashli were all working to the east with the wind to their back and simply marched forward. It took seven of us about an hour to cover the hillside.

Ashli’s video highlights:

At the end, we went back down to the house to debrief. We talked about what we had done and what the experience was like for each of us. Jack was trying to find the right mix of order and chaos. Ashli noticed how each of us had our own unique approach and felt like our personalities came through while we worked. Lisa shared how she started off focused on covering the ground in her “zone” perfectly, but at some point along the way realized there was more to it than that. For me, I loved the communal aspect. All of us out there working and learning together, caring for the land, and having fun.

I believe humans are uniquely capable of bringing a vision for developing a farm. And with that knowledge comes a sobering responsibility: It’s a farmer’s job to carry out their vision in a thoughtful and loving way. Not only is this the best way to create a healthy farm organism, it’s also key to personal sustainability. And to the best of my knowledge, that’s what biodynamics is really all about. And that’s why we are implementing biodynamics at Burnt Hill.

Farming is inherently an exploitative process. This is why we’re consciously “giving” to the land before we “take.” Our work through time will be based on rhythms and a conscious cultivation of the soil. Observations from time spent on the farm will inform how and where we plant and design this new vineyard and farm. 

So here we are at the very start. Now is the time to prepare the farm for success. We will plant our vineyard only when the soil is ready. This Burnt Hill hillside – with all its elements in harmony – has the capacity to yield wines unlike anywhere else on earth. In due time we'll taste and see!