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.
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.