Road Trip to New York!

Road Trip to New York!

Ashli and I took a little road trip to a grapevine nursery in New York. If you've ever wondered where grapevines originate, this little two minute video will give you an idea! We'll be planting a new vineyard at Burnt Hill Farm in 2019 and doing all the preliminary groundwork is essential. Knowing the source of your plant material and the grafting process and understanding the quality control measures in place at the nursery is a really important step in ensuring that we're planting a healthy vineyard at Burnt Hill. Stay tuned!  

Not Your Average Tasting Room Experience

Not Your Average Tasting Room Experience

We’re out to do what was previously unthinkable: Put Maryland wine map on the world map.  

Inherent to that vision is growing and producing world-class wines that uniquely reflect our climate, soil, and terrain or what is commonly referred to as terroir. This starts with the perfect hillside, continues with thoughtful, low-input farming practices, and ends in the cellar where we are careful to implement light-handed winemaking techniques. This puts the fruit on display. It's our simple recipe for making noteworthy wines in Maryland.

But this effort continues into the tasting room. Beyond producing delicious Maryland wines, we are in the business of creating authentic, wine-centered experiences. We believe that the only way to truly appreciate great wine is through personal encounters. So we’ve created a medium for you to taste, learn and enjoy. Nestled in Carroll County's rolling countryside, our cozy tasting room is a beautiful destination to not only rest and relax but also to experience delicious, Maryland-grown wines. Wine and conversation is always the big feature here and the main focal point of our tasting room experience.  

Another reason this is important is that we see wine as food. So to make this a complete and full-bodied experience, we host events throughout the year to celebrate food artistry such as Food Truck Fridays (every Friday, May – October). There are also events that celebrate wine tradition and culture, like the annual Saint Vincent Festival. And lastly, events like "En Primeur" that offer Cru Club members exclusive access to taste and purchase special wines before they're made available to the public.

Come spend some time with us. You’ll be greeted by friendly staff, taste some great wines, and really get to know the beauty of world-class winemaking.

Cover Crops

Cover Crops

Managing the soil is essential for farmers and vignerons. A measured and thoughtful approach and employing best practices is key to great winemaking. If we're going to put Maryland wine on the world map, we'll have to start with the best soil on gently rolling hills. This is precisely what we've found at Burnt Hill Farm. It all starts here, not just with the grapes, but even before that -- with the soil they're cultivated in. We may not be able to dictate the weather during any emerging vintage, but we can manage soil. Maryland vineyards hold great promise in the winemaking space with thoughtful farming practices. Slow and steady wins the race.      

Superb Wine Requires Smart Farming

Superb Wine Requires Smart Farming

The quality of a wine is determined by the quality of the grapes from which it was made. And the quality of the grapes is predicated on the quality of the hillside where they’re grown. So our goal, then, is to grow grapes on the best possible hillside. That’s why one of the most exciting aspects of the Burnt Hill project is the opportunity to start from a clean slate on an exceptional hillside. 

So much about a hill, like soil type and topography, is not easily improved. But there are some things, like biodiversity and soil resiliency, that greatly impact outcomes and can be enriched through thoughtful farming practices, like biodynamics. Developed in 1924, biodynamics was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks.

Think of a farm as a living, breathing organism. Like a human body with a system of organs, a farm is a system of interacting beings, substances and processes. This understanding is a fundamental starting point for biodynamic practices. To help guide our biodynamic program, we've welcomed Joseph Brinkley to our team. Joseph is a viticulturist and biodynamic specialist who has managed the largest certified organic vineyards in the country. 

Our purpose, as it relates to Burnt Hill, is growing the highest quality grapes. To achieve this, we must bring balance and health to the soil, plants, and animals that inhabit the farm. So the next few years will be spent getting to know the rhythms of the land. We will till the earth, cultivate biodiverse cover crops, compost, and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. We will begin this journey by focusing on overall soil health.

Here are 4 ways we will achieve healthy soils and a balanced farm system:

1. Compost

Compost is the only way to increase humus in the soil. Without humus, soil is dead. Not all composts are equal, and like wine, to get good compost one must start with good ingredients. The goal here is high quality, soil enlivening, humus-enriching materials with the addition of biodynamic preparations. Raising animals and growing our own ingredients is key to ensure the highest quality compost. 

2. Cover Crops

There are several plant ‘types’ we will focus on: legumes, grasses, small grains, brassica, and flowers. In late-summer, we will sow our first mix of daikon radishes, clover, barley, flax and buckwheat into the hillside. The aim is to keep our plantings diverse, knowing that plants feed soil.

3. Field Sprays

Biodynamic preparations add to the life processes of the soil and overall health of the farm. Without these, we won't get the full benefit of the biodynamic method. In time, we will raise our own animals and make our own biodynamic preparations on the farm.

4. Biodiversity 

There are many ways to increase plant and animal biodiversity: wild and domesticated animals, trees, hedges, habitat, meadows, etc. Our aim is to creatively build biodiversity on our farm with multiple layers of benefit. 

Farming is inherently an exploitative process. This is why we are consciously “giving” to the land before we start “taking.” 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. 

An Open Letter to Annapolis

An Open Letter to Annapolis

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since our original post, The Maryland Wineries Association is now working with Delegate Miller and the MSLBA to draft new language for HB-742. Delegate Miller did not intend to hurt Maryland wineries and I trust that a positive compromise will be reached. It appears that our voices have been heard! Thank you for your activism. This seems like a great example of how the local democratic process can and should function. We remain hopeful toward our vision to put Maryland wine on the world map!

Original Post:

As many of you saw on Facebook and Instagram yesterday, I spent President's Day in Annapolis testifying against a piece of proposed legislation. This was the first time I've ever provided personal testimony and I typically wouldn’t get involved in such a thing except that our family farm – and many others like it – would be devastated if this bill passes into law as written.

I know that there are always two sides (or more) to an issue. I’m not out to impugn the sponsor of the bill as I understand that bills are often drafted with reasonable intentions. But I also know that unintended consequences can sometimes be overlooked. In this case, the results would put a significant number of Maryland farmers out of business.

The particular bill that brought me to Annapolis is House Bill 742 – brought forth by Delegate Warren Miller from Howard County on behalf of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA).

Bottom line: This bill would put 25 Maryland wineries out of business on day 1.

The proposed legislation states that a farm winery license may only be issued to “a location that has as its principal purpose the production of wine.” This doesn’t seem unreasonable at face value, especially to public servants who are unaware of how Maryland farm wineries actually operate, but it would hang local farms and farmers out to dry.

Beyond Old Westminster Winery – the flagship vineyard that our family “bet the farm on” and poured our lives into – we also own Maryland Wine Cellars, a full-service winemaking facility that other area vineyards rely on to produce wines from their local farm produce. They send us their grapes for production, bottling, and labeling, and then we send it back ready to market in their tasting rooms. It’s a cost-saving resource that local vineyards have built their businesses on. This bill would undo years of work, time, and financial investment. The farm wineries that rely on our space, equipment and expertise would be forced to either come up with millions of dollars to build and equip their own winemaking facility, or go out of business. The current cooperative environment we all benefit from would cease to exist.

So I spent six hours listening to bill after bill waiting for HB-742 to be heard. When it was finally called, I had the opportunity to step up to the table and share my testimony before the Economic Matters Committee. I told the story of Old Westminster Winery and how we’re a family business run by three siblings and our parents, a local farm that relies on the land and the commodity that we produce, and how this bill would put us – and 25 others like us – right out of business.  

I truly believe this is a perfect example of a bill drafted with reasonable intentions, yet loaded with unintended consequences. In fact, after I testified, Delegate Miller (the sponsor of the bill) was surprised to learn of the widespread impact his bill would have.

The reality is that many legislators are completely unaware of what grape growers and winemakers do, making it necessary to write this piece.

You see, wine is made in the vineyard. Grapes are grown on farms. We are farmers. We work hard to make a living, create jobs, support local commerce, and enhance the quality of life for a lot of Marylanders.  

It’s honest work, old school agriculture, and an ancient business model that supports rural economies. We generate a significant amount of tax revenue from our wines and contribute to Maryland tourism. We also benefit other local shops, restaurants, and hotels. We’re proud Marylanders who have a passion for putting Maryland wine on the world map and being a blessing to a lot of locals in the process.

While I understand the intent of house bill 742 – to clearly define a “farm winery” – I believe it’s imperative that we do this in a way that preserves farms, creates jobs, and supports local agro-tourism. The raw truth is that this bill will put many good old-fashioned farmers straight out of business and undo everything we’ve worked so diligently to achieve over the past 10 years.

One of the lessons I learned during the testimony process is that citizens can, in fact, persuade the legislature by thoughtfully and respectfully presenting concerns. Consider letting delegate Miller know that you support Maryland wineries. Let him know that you care about local farmers, jobs, and the Maryland agricultural economy.

Here's the link if you care to write Delegate Miller: http://www.miller4delegate.com/contact.html

Wine's 'Dirty' Little Secret

Wine's 'Dirty' Little Secret

What’s the most important element of a truly great wine? It's correct to suggest it's all about grapes. But there’s even a step before that. There's something that predetermines a vine's potential to yield grapes fit for remarkable wine.

It’s the dirt. Great wine is made in the vineyard.

Bloomberg recently published an article on the “dirty” side of wine – a reality we’ve been talking about since the inception of Old Westminster – that even before any emphasis on grapes can be made, a winemaker has to start with the right soil.

As many of you know, terroir (French: terˈwär) refers to the conditions in which grapes grow – especially the soil and climate. Above – and especially beneath it all – terroir gives wine its uniqueness.

This dirty truth spurs the thoughtful vigneron to study his or her soils and farm in the perfect geographical and topographical setting. That’s the real dirt on great wine – that soil types and climate are the essential foundation for distinctive wines that capture the story of the place in which it’s made.

In fact, soil type is a great way to classify wines. We’re increasingly seeing wines that marquee their unique dirt type on their labels. So it’s not just about varietals. We need to be digging deeper into the dirty side of great wine.

Here’s the dirt on distinctive wine: Smart viticulture focuses on matching the right grapes with the right soil.

Examining soil at the future home of Burnt Hill Vineyards

Examining soil at the future home of Burnt Hill Vineyards

That’s what we had in mind when we searched long and hard for the perfect soil in Maryland. And we found it. On Burnt Hill.

The ancient dirt on Burnt Hill – formed from decomposing slate – is rocky and nutritionally poor, requiring the vines to send roots deep into the earth for sustenance. The high elevation exposes the site to abundant sunshine and wind which are nature’s antibiotics. The steep hills quickly evacuate rainwater. All of these are characteristics of a promising vineyard site.

The next few years will be spent studying the soils and getting to know the rhythms of the land. We will till the earth, cultivate cover crops and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. The exact varieties, clones and rootstocks to be planted aren’t yet known – in time the site will tell us that. And we will wait patiently with the understanding that terroir gives wine its uniqueness.

This hillside – with all its elements in harmony – has the capacity to yield iconic wines.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular video updates from Burnt Hill.

Blending: The Art and the Science

Blending: The Art and the Science

Great wine is art and science and the sum of many details.

Blending is a medium for creating a wine that is more delicious than the sum of its parts. The goal of blending is to create distinctive wines that are balanced, reflect the vineyard and vintage, and of course, are a pleasure to drink. In the cellar, winemakers are careful to treat 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 weaved throughout a brilliant tapestry. 

When we sit down to the blending table, there are four of us: Lisa, Ashli, our consultant, Lucien Guillemet (aka “the most interesting man in the world”) and me. Lucien is the winemaker at Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, a Grand Cru Classé Château in the Margaux appellation of the Bordeaux region of 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. 

Our inspiration

Bordeaux is the quintessence of wine blending. In Margaux, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are the usual suspects. These varieties are always blended – each variety bringing a unique characteristic to the table. Cabernet Sauvignon contributes full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine's aging potential. Merlot is full in body with lush, velvety tannins with intense plum and blackberry fruit. Cabernet Franc contributes finesse and lends a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Petit Verdot contributes course tannin, inky color and violet and leather aromas, in small amounts, to the blend. Blending each of these varieties in just the right proportions is essential to creating truly stunning wines.

Where we begin

Armed 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 the proportions that sing it’s often quite obvious! 

The finish line

The process isn’t finished until every individual lot has its home in a stunning wine. Rough blends are typically compiled over a few long intensive days. We then revisit these wines over the ensuing weeks, hypothesize, and make nuanced tweaks. We then share finished but not yet bottled blends with our friend, customer, sommeliers and restaurateurs 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!

If you’d like to learn more about the nuanced art and science of winemaking, then consider joining our "Cru"! 

Maryland & The Future of American Wine

Maryland & The Future of American Wine

Over the past 40 years, east coast wine producers have looked to California for cues on how wine ought to be done here. This, of course, turned out to be a tragic mistake because the Mid-Atlantic climate has much more in common with France than it has with California. In fact, I think it’s taken us a few extra decades to find our way because we’ve looked to California instead of France.

I submit that if America were a French colony, world class wines would have been made on the east coast for the better part of the last century.  

(Burnt Hill Farm, Clarksburg, Maryland)

(Burnt Hill Farm, Clarksburg, Maryland)

The good news though is that many east coast producers are really beginning to understand our climate and soils. This understanding decides what grape varieties to plant where and how to farm. The industry is booming as a result. The improvements in quality and investment over the past decade are seismic.  

I would even go so far as to say that I believe that the east coast will play a major role in the future of American wine. Why?

Today, California produces 90% of American wine. But farming in California is becoming increasingly difficult because there is a very real water crisis.

In John Steinbeck’s timeless novel, The Grapes of Wrath, farmers flee Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to California in search of good farmland. Climate projections have caused some cynical farmers to consider, albeit frightfully, a reverse scenario.

California is the past and the present of American wine, but it can’t be solely responsible for the future. At least not to the degree that it has been. Water is kind of a big deal.

But don’t get me wrong. California is home to innumerable iconic wines. Wines that I love. My premise isn’t qualitative or hostile; it’s just that it ultimately comes down to two main factors: water and money.

So what now? Many farmers are moving operations to the Pacific Northwest. And all the while the east coast is over here, booming. New York now has 320 wineries, Virginia 250, and Pennsylvania 180.

So yes, I believe that the east coast will play an increased role in the future of American wine.

Maryland, specifically, is wildly undervalued. In the year 2000 there were 15 wineries in the state, today there are 85 and counting. I think Maryland has some of the most interesting soils in the mid-Atlantic. Not everywhere, but in specific places. And soil is pretty much everything. That's why forward thinking winegrowers are seeking out the best vineyard sites.

Yet, we have our own challenges. It's not a lack of good vineyard sites, or the ability to grow grapes fit for remarkable wines. It’s that not enough people are committed to doing it and doing it right. And by that I mean that there's a shortage of planted acreage and, as a direct result, so much wine being made from fruit grown elsewhere.

Thankfully, there is a band of producers in Maryland making a compelling case that truly unique and world-class wines are made in Maryland.

My point: The East Coast is the future and there are good reasons to get behind Maryland wine.

The Saint Vincent Wine Festival Comes to Westminster!

The Saint Vincent Wine Festival Comes to Westminster!

This time two 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 28-29, 2017 The Saint Vincent festival will take place in the village of Mercurey in Burgundy, France and in the rolling hills of Westminster, Maryland.

Will you join us?

Here are some pictures from our trip...

New Year; New Goals

New Year; New Goals

Happy New Year! 

It's a peaceful time of year here at Old Westminster Winery. The rush of harvest is behind us and the vines are settling in for a long winter's nap. Before we begin our preparations for the season ahead, we felt a bit of reflection was needed...

2016 was a good year at Old Westminster Winery. We learned a lot and we made significant progress in our vision to put Maryland wine on the world map.

Here are 4 things that stand out:

1. ‘Top 101 Wineries in America’

We honestly still can’t believe we found ourselves on this list. The number 99 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 list.

2. Old Westminster Got ‘Punched’

Jon Bonné, Senior Contributing Editor for PUNCH and author of The New California Wine, recently wrote about Pétillant Naturel (Pét-nat) and made it a point to give Old Westminster Winery a sparkling review in PUNCH.  

“The gang at Old Westminster, in Maryland, is having almost too much fun with their range of pét-nats, including a beautiful sparkling albariño. Anyone who doubts that America is, indeed, great again need look no further than a fizzy albariño made outside Baltimore. The Baker family is trying to make a case for serious mid-Atlantic wine. Trained in chemistry, winemaker Lisa Hinton may not be an obvious pét-nat poster child, but her efforts are refined and subtly flavored, impressive for anywhere and downright groundbreaking for Maryland."

This is super encouraging for us because PUNCH is serious press from authoritative writers that offer the kind of critical truthfulness we need to hear in order to realistically measure our progress. See the full article here.

3. Best Wine In Maryland?

Old Westminster Winery won “best in show” at the Maryland Comptroller’s Cup for our 2014 South Mountain Vineyard, Malbec. This Malbec, grown in the rocky foothills of Maryland’s South Mountain, offers an authentic expression of this variety’s richness and complexity.

In the Washington Post, wine writer Dave McIntyre told a beautiful story about his favorite wines & experiences from around the world in 2016. In the piece he references this same wine:

"Four wines stand out as exemplars of local wine... Old Westminster’s Malbec showed that Maryland can offer savory reds of world-class quality."

More than anything, this is a sign of many more amazing wines to come. 

4. We Found It.

After many months of searching, we found it: Burnt Hill Farm. 117 acres located high in the hills of the Piedmont Plateau – 30 miles northwest of Washington, DC in Montgomery County, MD. At the end of a long day digging backhoe pits to examine the soil, our geologist concluded:

“This place has the potential to yield brilliant wines.”

So we bought the land and we’re rolling up our sleeves.

________________________________

We will continue to raise the bar in 2017.  While our overarching vision is unwavering, each year we set short term goals.

Here are 4 things we're particularly excited about:

1. Planting New Varieties

 We're planting Ribolla Gialla.  

This is a grape variety I fell in love with last spring when my wife and I visited Friuli, Italy and Brda, Slovenia. Ribolla makes beautiful wines in many styles -- bright, aromatic wines fermented in steel, richly textured wines fermented in oak, and delicious bubbly. We'll be the first to plant it in Maryland, and one of the first to plant it in the mid-Atlantic. I have reason to believe it will make beautiful wines here in our greenstone soils.

2. Producing New Wines

We have several new wines in the works. While I won't show all our cards in this blog, I'll give you one wine to think about: Pét-nat Barbera Rosé.

Experimentation is, and always will be, at the heart of what we do. 

3. Going Green

We’re excited about installing solar panels on the pavilion of our tasting room to power the facility. Having a "solar pavilion" has always been part of our vision and now we’re thrilled to make it happen.

4. Burnt Hill Vineyard

We will focus on one thing on our new farm: Growing iconic wines.

The next few years will be spent getting to know the rhythms of the newly purchased farm. We will till the earth, cultivate cover crops and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. When we believe the ground is ready, we will plant an initial 30,000 vines. The exact varieties, clones, and rootstocks aren’t yet known – in time the site will tell us that. This hillside – with all its elements in harmony – has the capacity to yield wines unlike anywhere else on earth.

Burnt Hill Vineyard is an exciting new chapter in our story.

Have a great new year and stay in touch!

We Found It.

We Found It.

Backstory 

We are chasing a dream: to put Maryland wine on the world map.

A bottle of wine – perhaps more than anything else on earth – reflects the time and place where it’s grown. Soil is a key element in every great wine. 

Over the past six years, we’ve produced many beautiful wines at Old Westminster Winery. But our 17-acre family farm has limited capacity. To advance our vision, we need to grow beyond our existing property lines. 

So in January of 2016, conversations turned into action and we hired a distinguished geologist, Ernest “Bubba” Beasley, to guide our search for the perfect hillside to plant a new vineyard.

Through advanced geologic mapping and weather data, Bubba helped us identify the key soil characteristics and microclimate of several prospects. No vineyard should be planted in unexplored ground.

After many months of searching, we found it: Burnt Hill Farm. 117 acres located high in the hills of the Piedmont Plateau – 30 miles northwest of Washington, DC in Montgomery County, MD. At the end of a long day digging backhoe pits to examine the soil, Bubba concluded:

“This place has the potential to yield brilliant wines.”

What makes Burnt Hill so special? 

The ancient dirt – formed from decomposing slate, phyllite and schist – is rocky and nutritionally poor, requiring the vines to dig deep for sustenance. The high elevation exposes the site to abundant sunshine and wind which are nature’s antibiotics. The steep hills quickly evacuate rainwater and cold air. All of these are characteristics of a promising vineyard site.

Lucie Morton, our new viticulturist, is an internationally renowned author, lecturer and consultant recognized as one of the "20 Most Admired People in the North American Wine Industry."

After her first visit, Lucie said of Burnt Hill: 

"The opportunity to develop a vineyard site like Burnt Hill does not come along very often. It has many attributes sought-after for fine wine vineyards including elevation and well drained, sloping, gravelly soils where roots must grow deep in search of water and nutrients. The Baker family – with their enthusiasm, talent and youth – will surely develop a vineyard that produces wonderful wines for generations to come."

What’s behind the name?

One particular evening, I was walking the property and dreaming about the future when a neighbor who was no less than 80 years old greeted me. In our conversation the old man shared a brief history of the place: In the early 1800's the family who lived off the land found it challenging to grow traditional crops on the steep, rocky hills. So they started a different kind of business – burning timber and brush to make charcoal, lye and potash. At that time, these ingredients were used for cooking, soap making and fertilizer. The place was named Burnt Hill after its scorched, barren appearance. 

Fast forward 200 years and we believe the name “Burnt Hill” reflects the potential of the vineyard we intend to plant. As the Romans discovered millennia ago in Europe, the best wines aren’t grown on flat, fertile land, they are grown high on rocky hills where other crops can’t survive.

The Future

On this farm, we will focus on one thing – growing iconic wines. 

The next few years will be spent getting to know the rhythms of the land. We will till the earth, cultivate cover crops and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. When we believe the ground is ready, we will plant an initial 30,000 vines. The exact varieties, clones and rootstocks aren’t yet known – in time the site will tell us that. This hillside – with all its elements in harmony – has the capacity to yield wines unlike anywhere else on earth.

Burnt Hill Vineyard is a new chapter in our story.

Keep Calm and Travel

Keep Calm and Travel

By Ashli Johnson

When traveling to new places you are challenged to grow in perspective and appreciation of other cultures and lifestyles. It provides a level of insight you can’t otherwise achieve; that’s why I love it.

Last week I returned home from the mecca of fine wine regions. With wide eyes and an almost mythic expectation of the country, France was dressed for the occasion: pristine architecture, cobblestone streets, café’s on every corner, wafts of freshly baked baguettes. It was everything I imagined.   

I spent ten days traveling the northeast regions visiting Champagne, Alsace and Burgundy. Hours each day were filled with conversations and tastings with winemakers and family members of these historic vineyards. These producers – some dating back to the 12th century – are rich in tradition and proud of their region’s status. I was inspired by their passion for excellence while maintaining respectful practices set forth by their predecessors.

But driving through the picturesque countryside, something was bothering me.

There were producers from Burgundy who had no interest in tasting wines from Alsace, nor Champagne, nor anywhere else outside of their region. And vice versa. The distance is not as though it’s an inconvenience either. They’re only as far as three hours from one another.

Nonetheless, it hit me: How can we truly appreciate a wine if we aren’t aware of how it fits into the world of wine?

Every region offers something unique and beautiful. Distinct soils, climate, and culture all contribute to a place’s ability to craft distinctive wines. And it’s not a competition, it’s about appreciation. When you learn a producer’s ‘why’, it’s impossible not to gain realization. Even if you don't like the wine.

I am invigorated by the idea that Maryland is a young, ambitious region. We are not only discovering all of our own possibilities, but we are also proving our place on the map of world wine.

We are building on a solid foundation: rolling hills, ancient soils, and a climate similar to parts of the Old World.

At Old Westminster Winery, our team is talented and serious about producing world-class wines. We will continue to strive for excellence. We will experiment with new varieties. We will plant vineyards on new sites. And we will continue to travel because it’s a prerequisite for personal development. Complacency is not an option.   

This is what gets me excited about wine in Maryland: There is so much more to discover. We’ve only just scratched the surface. Our story is being written every day.   

Be a part of it with us…

 
 

See Sights From Ashli's Trip...

Maryland Is Wine Country

Maryland Is Wine Country

For years, Virginia has been touted as "DC's wine country." It's true. Virginia offers plenty of beautiful vineyards that produce delicious wine.

But so does Maryland. And increasingly so.

If you called me a biased and lifelong Marylander, you'd be right. So I can’t possibly expect you to take my word for it. But you could take national media sources at their word, like this, from DC Refined...

“Sure, Virginia wine may garner a lot of the noise, but don't ignore what’s produced by our neighbors to the north. Maryland wineries are getting noticed with experimental wines (pét-nat Albariño anyone?), award-winning international varietals, and an effortless hospitality that makes anyone from budding newbies to rabid oenophiles feel welcome. As the state slogan used to say, wine fans will find “more than you can imagine” in the Free State.” See the full DC Refined article here.

Or this, from Tasting Table...

"Maryland is typically more synonymous with crab cakes than Chardonnay—but that's starting to change, thanks to its growing population of quality wineries... Chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen is the first (and only) Baltimore chef to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic, and his restaurant shines a spotlight on ingredients from the Chesapeake region... Gjerde is a fan of the [Old Westminster] "Alius", an orange wine that means "something different." It's a natural wine fermented with wild yeast that feels so essentially Maryland that you might think the word terroir was invented with this bottle in mind."

Or this, from the Washington Post

“It’s true that Maryland has fewer options — the Maryland Wineries Association estimates that the state houses about 70 wineries... But, it has plenty of worthy destinations, which are too often neglected in favor of Virginia’s offerings.” Get the full WAPO story here.

There are plenty more voices who agree on our press page.

There may be far more wineries in Virginia (285) than Maryland (70), but this is purely quantitative. The truth is, you'll find a wide range of wine quality in both states. Seek out the best on both sides of the Potomac. I believe that the hills of northern Maryland offer the right mix of soils, climate, and topography to produce truly beautiful wines. Wines worth discovering.

In fact, this past August, Old Westminster Winery was named one of the top 101 wineries in America. You’ll find us listed among some of the nation’s best.

The tide is rising. So stop by and see for yourself!

The holidays are coming. Planned your party yet?

The holidays are coming. Planned your party yet?

PalaigosEngagamentParty-89+(3).jpg

It’s getting to be that time of year. The days are getting shorter,  the weather is cooling down, the leaves are changing colors…. From colleagues to cousins, now is the time to plan your holiday party at the Old Westminster Winery.

THE PERFECT SETTING

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Maryland, Old Westminster Winery is convenient – one hour from Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis, and Gettysburg – but feels like a getaway. It’s a beautiful backdrop for special occasions, holiday parties and corporate gatherings. Our space has been thoughtfully designed for effortless events, small or large.

Beyond the quaint country ambiance, top-notch service and delicious wines, what truly sets Old Westminster Winery apart is our pricing & flexibility: The rental fee is simply $10/guest/hour & you have the freedom to use your caterer of choice. We offer a list of recommended vendors should you need some inspiration.

Our team is ready to help host your special event! To get started, follow the link below and give us some initial details on the inquiry form – such as the date, number of guests & style of your event.

A New Identity for East Coast Wine?

A New Identity for East Coast Wine?

East Coast wine has been through a lot of changes over the past few decades. It’s been great at times, not-so-great at others. But one thing is constant: We’re searching for an identity. 

Some regions may have found their niche like Virginia Viognier, Long Island Merlot and Finger Lakes Riesling but many producers (including myself) question if these varieties are always a perfect fit or if marketing teams are just anxious for something to get behind.   

The good news is that something new is bubbling in Maryland. It's a style, not a variety. A wine with a true sense of place made without additives and intervention. 

It’s called pét-nat. 

If you’ve been following us over the past year, you know we’re ALL IN on pét-nat. Not only because it’s delicious and refreshing, but also because it’s natural and transparent. And it’s a perfect fit for the East Coast where the weather can be inconsistent. Less ripeness is an asset with pét-nat; bright, refreshing bubbles with bracing acidity and just right for a summer table.

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 it's showy cousin, the Champagne method, which is precise and calculated, pét-nat is wild and spontaneous. That’s why we love it. It should be no wonder that pét-nat is enjoying a revival in America and we plan to keep the party going.

If you’re a cynic like me, you’re thinking: Is pét-nat a fad? I honestly don’t think so. For the same reasons I don’t think organics, or eating local, or avoiding hormone infused livestock are fads. Consumers are seeking transparent products and wine is no exception. 

Punch Magazine’s Jon Bonné describes pét-nat as a “tectonic shift away from raised-pinky pretensions to a casual, freestyle era, one that borrows a page or two from the craft beer world.” In another place, Bonné writes, “The gang at Old Westminster, in Maryland, is having almost too much fun with their range of pét-nats, including a beautiful sparkling albariño. (Anyone who doubts that America is, indeed, great again need look no further than a fizzy albariño made outside Baltimore.)”

Curious to learn more? Check out this piece I wrote back in March when we were gearing up the first-ever Maryland pét-nats. 

Or you can purchase a bottle of our pét-nat Grüner Veltliner before it’s sold out. 

Stay tuned for more, and be on the lookout for many more East Coast producers to jump on the pét-nat train. Pinkies down; glasses up!

Make a Difference: Buy a Tee Shirt!

Make a Difference: Buy a Tee Shirt!

Friends, we are super excited to announce the release of our new T-shirts!

This product has been a long-time coming. We've created the perfect design that tells our story on premium tri-blend fabric.

The finished product? Incredibly comfortable and good-looking tees designed by a local artist and printed right here in Charm City.

And $5 from every shirt sold goes to our Water Project in East Africa.

The artist is Baltimore's own Annie Howe. The artwork is an intricate, handmade papercut that embodies the Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard brand. Annie met with our team to learn about our vision and worked tirelessly to capture it in a single image. We think she did an incredible job! We then worked with her favorite printers, Baltimore-based Momentum Printing to print these gorgeous new premium tees.

And there’s variety... short or long-sleeve styles available in four colors: military green, faded grey, vintage blue and vintage purple. Unisex sizes include XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL.

We'll be taking orders HERE through the end of October. Shirts will be printed to order and ready for pickup or shipping the first weekend of December... Just in time for Christmas!

Thank you for your continued support of our wines and our mission to provide life-giving water in rural Uganda!