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"! 

The Beginning

With a goal to expand the winery this year, we have a lot to do and there's a lot going on in these winter months! Join along with us as we take you on a little journey behind the scenes at Old Westminster Winery, and a sneak peek into coming attractions at Burnt Hill Vineyard! We're trusting that these working winter months will render an amazing vintage and we can't wait to see you at the tasting room soon!  

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!

The Art of the Harvest

The Art of the Harvest

Harvest is a special time of year. It's the culmination of cultivation; the time to reap and realize the prize of all of our hard work in the vineyard. We harvest our treasured crop and shepherd it through a magical metamorphosis from raw fruit into bottles of wine that we can confidently deem worthy of our labels.

2016 has the early makings of an astonishing year at Old Westminster. The season began cool and wet which can be a bit worrisome, but we’re grateful to report that we were spared of any early catastrophes. While many vineyards – particularly those to the south of us – endured frost, hail, and damaging winds this year, our crops escaped unaffected.

Because things were wet early in the season, we were particularly diligent with our canopy management. Sun and wind are nature's antibiotics. Since early August we've had these in spades with borderline drought conditions. In some scenarios, excessive heat may slow vine development, photosynthesis, and vine respiration. But we noticed no such effect. The vines are clean and healthy, the grapes are vibrant and well on their way to full maturity.

At this point, the table is set. We continue to be diligent with our chores and monitor the physiological ripeness of our grapes to determine the optimal time to pick. Sure, we track sugars and acidity – but we do much more than that – we visually inspect the vineyard, we kick the vine's trunk and see if berries drop to the ground. We taste the fruit, chew the seeds, note the texture of the pulp and toughness of the skins; we assess the flavor development and aroma and pontificate about the wine to come.

Why does the quality of our grapes get us so excited? Because beautiful grapes are the only ingredient in a great bottle of wine.

The process of making great wine is simple: grow ripe, flavorful grapes and shepherd them carefully through fermentation, aging, and bottling. That's it in a nutshell.

But as simple as it is, it's certainly not easy. At the end of the day, we're farmers. We battle weather, fungus, insects, and wildlife. We are tireless because we know a great bottle of wine reflects its maker's hard work and creativity.

A wine is only as good as the grapes that go into it. It's sort of like guacamole... ever tried to make guac from an under-ripe avocado? It's awful. No amount of salt, pepper, onions, or lime juice can save it. Wine is much the same way. If the grapes are ripe and flavorful, the winemaker ought to have a light hand, let the grapes flaunt their stuff. But if the grapes are under-ripe or worse, no amount of manipulation can save it.

That's why everything is done by hand at Old Westminster. From winter pruning to summer hedging to harvest, every step of our process is powered by sweat, not oil. This method of farming offers our vines and wines the diligent care they deserve. Our fingerprints are on every vine, every grape, and every bottle. And we’re eager to share our hard work with you.

We’ll see you in the tasting room soon!

 

Old Westminster Just Got ‘Punched’

Old Westminster Just Got ‘Punched’

By Drew Baker

The pursuit of “perfection” in winemaking is often elusive and fraught with many ups and downs. Wine has to be one of the most critical art forms known. There are millions of variables and winemakers everywhere know how bipolar things can be. Nurture in tandem with nature is fickle enough. Nurture in tandem with a highly critical wine culture is an adventure into the ultimate meritocracy.  

That’s why we’re so excited about what we’re hearing from the critics.  

Jon Bonné is Senior Contributing Editor for PUNCH and author of The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste. He recently set out to write about Pétillant Naturel (Pét Nat) and made it a point to give Old Westminster Winery a sparkling review in PUNCH.

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.    

Says Bonné in PUNCH’S latest edition, “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.)”

He went on to describe us as “The Outlier” for our 2015 Old Westminster Home Vineyard Maryland Albariño Pétillant Naturel:

“This is where homegrown pét-nat gets interesting. ‘Home’ indicates Westminster, Maryland, between Baltimore and the Pennsylvania border, where 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. Their albariño is the most pleasurable of the lot (a grüner veltliner was interesting but a bit mild in its flavors), with the grape’s quintessential peach and talc aspects on full display.” 

See the full article here.

Our vision for “Putting Maryland Wine on the World Map” was never just a grand cluster of words pulled arbitrarily from the sky. The world map is more than where Maryland wine could be. It’s where Maryland wine should be. Our terroir is more than capable. It’s up to us to make it happen.  

Verjus: The New East Coast Acid

Verjus: The New East Coast Acid

You know that feeling you get in your mouth when you think about sinking your teeth into a Granny Smith apple? Yes, that feeling you got just now. Verjus inspires a similar quality of mouth contorting pucker-ability.   

Derived from the French vert jus meaning, “green juice”, verjus is simply the highly acidic pressed juice of unripe grapes. Though unfermented and nonalcoholic, it’s produced by winemakers and used by cocktail bartenders instead of citrus to add an accent of acid to their drink recipes. Likewise, chefs use verjus as an ingredient in finer cuisine because it's a more subtle acidity -- it doesn’t grandstand like citrus and allows accompanying flavors to share the stage.  

The production of verjus is also good farming. To encourage vine balance, we "green harvest" our vineyards each summer. This involves removing excess grape clusters while they’re still green, reducing crop level and improving the quality of the remaining grapes. We green harvest in early August during a stage in the vine's lifecycle called veraison, a term meaning "the onset of ripening."

Although many grape growers simply drop green fruit to the ground, we resolve to let nothing go to waste. We carefully handpick the green clusters and press them in the winery to make verjus.

Why is it important?

Verjus should be the East Coast acid of choice. It’s the perfect substitute for citrus products, which aren’t grown in the Mid-Atlantic. Many puritan farm-to-table chefs are beginning to “put their menu where their message is” and use verjus.

Our feeling is that restaurants that preach local must use verjus. Systematically using lemons and limes that are trucked across the country is not only unsustainable, it forfeits the opportunity for the East Coast chef and bar manager to highlight our region.

Why isn’t everyone using verjus?

The only answer I can come up with for this question is a lack of information. Verjus is not only delicious, it’s the perfect local acid for cocktails, salad dressing, and marinade.

Verjus is the new citrus. Want to try it? Shoot us a note!

Top 101 Wineries in America.

We honestly can’t believe we made this list.

The number 99 winery in America? There are nearly 9,000 wineries from across all 50 states. To put that in perspective, Old Westminster Winery is in the top 1%... Wow!

Since the beginning we’ve had this crazy vision for putting Maryland wine on the world map.

We’ve always thought, “Why not? Are there any legitimate factors that precludes Maryland from being the origin of remarkable wines? Is not the terroir here conducive to the growing of worthy wines?” Certainly it is. We have the climate. We have the soils. We have the topography. We have the science. Now all we need is the audacity to undo every negative stereotype that beleaguers Maryland wine. In other words, all the facts say “this could be.” It’s up to us to say “this should be.”  

Moments like this remind us that we’re onto something special: a reputable national publication, The Daily Meal, puts together a team of wine experts fettered with rigorous criteria and tasked to come up with a list of the 101 Best Wineries in America. So naturally, the winners will invariably emerge from California, Oregon, Washington State and maybe New York. Right?

To our utter surprise, Maryland makes the list. But not only does the Old Line State make the list, a tiny Maryland farm run by three 20-something-year-old siblings makes the list. And that tiny Maryland farm is Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard. We’re still pinching ourselves!

Here’s a link to the article and the list.

We’re happy that the criteria for the list is rigorous and that any winery that makes the list has to pass tough muster. It’s an honor to make the cut. This list has boosted our confidence and renewed our resolve to stay the course in the crazy adventure of putting Maryland wine on the world map!

Stop by and visit us real soon.    

Wine Is Changing.

(Cool Ridge Vineyard in the foothills of South Mountain.  Washington County, Maryland)

(Cool Ridge Vineyard in the foothills of South Mountain.  Washington County, Maryland)

For centuries great wine was unapproachable to the average consumer. Too expensive and too pretentious. But that’s changing. Great wine is more accessible than ever.

Since understanding is a pillar of appreciation, the information age has served wine well.

Wine drinkers today have access to information that was hard to imagine just 15 years ago. The internet, smartphones and apps have made wine infinitely more approachable and less intimidating….  

But information hasn’t just served consumers well, it’s also served grape growers and winemakers around the world well. The secrets are out. The science is known. Great wine is being made by skilled producers in surprising places.

Notable wines of the future will no longer be exclusive products of France, Italy, or California. They will be coming to you from unsuspecting places and they will turn the heads of the most refined palates. Blind tasters will be astonished when they find out that one came from Virginia, or New York, or Maryland.    

The only prerequisites of great wines are a suitable vineyard site – marked by rolling hills and rocky soils – thoughtful farming practices and a skillful winemaker. Want to guess where you can find these things?

Maryland.

Local wine is making a serious run all over the US and the world. Folks are discovering hidden gems in their backyard. Dave McIntyre recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled, “Visit a local winery, bring home bottled adventure “. In it, he says, “The next time you’re at a local winery, ask about its winemaker’s experiments. You might discover a gem.”

Regional wines are changing the landscape around the world. Great wine will soon be on everyone’s table. As small, regional producers craft delicious world-class wines and experience the support of their communities, the tide will rise. There will always be a place for Bordeaux and Burgundy, but so many more wines around the world are offering incredible enjoyment and value.

Great wines have always told a story; there are simply more stories to choose from today than ever before.

Drink adventurously!

The Best Wine In Maryland?

This past week 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. A timely harvest on October 2, 2014 captured balance and ripeness from the vineyard. This wine was fermented with wild yeast, crafted with minimal intervention and aged in French oak barrels for eighteen months. Just 88 cases bottled April 25, 2016.

That’s right. This wine hasn’t been in bottle for two months! Drinking a wine of this style that young is practically criminal. Yet, beyond barrel aging, this wine will of course improve with years of bottle aging, which is why we have decided not to release it to the public anytime soon.

Our team has set out to craft delicious wines that are uniquely Maryland. Everything we do in the vineyard and cellar is directed towards this goal. Winning the Comptroller's Cup is a great honor and evidence that we're onto something special.

So this begs the question – is this Malbec the best wine made in Maryland? I would suggest it’s not. We firmly believe that, more than anything, this award is a sign of many amazing wines to come. Maryland wines have yet to reach their full potential and we’re excited about putting them on the world map. Maryland offers the right mix of rolling hills, rocky soil, breeze and sun to grow grapes fit for the production of truly remarkable wines.

So our Malbec may be the wine of the moment, but the best wines are still to come.

Cru members will receive an exclusive opportunity to purchase a few bottles of our South Mountain Vineyard, Malbec for their cellars this summer. If you’d like to be included in this opportunity, consider joining our Cru Club.

Turning Wine Into Water

(Photo: students in Uganda receiving rainwater harvesting tanks from Old Westminster Winery)

(Photo: students in Uganda receiving rainwater harvesting tanks from Old Westminster Winery)

By Drew Baker

Our mission is to put Maryland wine on the world map. One way we achieve this audacious goal is by making delicious wines that compare favorably with the best in the world. The other way is by using our wines to address world needs. Like lack of water, nutrition and education. 

Since the beginning we have set aside $1 from each bottle of wine retailed for philanthropic work. The winery’s new tasting room facilitates retail sales of 30,000-50,000 bottles annually. We use earmarked funds to install rainwater harvesting systems, build classrooms, sponsor and feed students, supply books and pay teachers in socioeconomically challenged regions, both nearby and around the world.

We talk a lot about the importance of buying local and supporting small farms. This is a worthy cause. A very palatable cause. But there are many more issues facing our world. Like thirsty children without access to education. As a society, we’re selling ourselves short if we don’t leverage our resources to help others. It’s not an obligation; it’s an opportunity. 

We decided not to publicize our altruistic projects until now because we didn’t want it to be front and center. We want to produce wines that speak for themselves and to cultivate a community of customers who purchase our wines because they love them. But we can achieve this AND tackle serious issues in our world.

The timing of this post is simple: this summer, my brother-in-law, Zach Hinton (Lisa’s husband), and I are visiting the school in Uganda that YOU made water-sufficient. You made this possible by purchasing Old Westminster Wines. We’ve leveraged your purchases to give over 300 students the water they need.

We hope this inspires more people to discover a way to give back to their communities and leverage their influence to meet the needs of others. The world is counting on us.

Farming Thoughtfully, Not Dogmatically

Farming Thoughtfully, Not Dogmatically

Vines, like people, display their needs. Sometimes in obvious and concerning ways, and other times in subtle, peculiar ways. It takes the experienced and discerning eye of the caregiver to take notice and make adjustments. For the vigneron, there’s no substitute for time in the vineyard. If we don't stop to look and listen, we could potentially miss out on producing the best wines possible. It all starts in the vineyard.

The collective goal of winegrowers should be to improve the quality of our grapes and the way we farm for the sake of our wines and the planet we all inhabit. 

Organics are important. Farming with as few inputs as possible ought to be our strategy. That’s why I use organic materials and principles as often as possible. But I’ve learned that there are also times when synthetic materials are less invasive and more effective.

It’s our feeling at Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard that we ought to encourage the research and development of new materials, and resist the temptation to outright reject them. 

Wine growers, including myself at times, fail to zoom out and look at the big picture – where we learn that rotation of spray material and timing are just as important as the materials used. Cover crops and nutrient management plans encourage healthier vines with stronger immune systems that demand fewer inputs.

So I’ve learned that it’s wise to listen, observe, learn and share.

I am certain of one thing: I will do things a bit differently – and hopefully better – every passing year because I’m always listening and learning. If I come across a new, interesting idea, I’ll thoroughly research it. And I may even try it.

We believe that our wines will no doubt improve as a result of continuous learning and future generations will thank us.

-Drew Baker, Vigneron

The Price for Premium Maryland Wine

The Price for Premium Maryland Wine

Occasionally we’re asked, “Why is your wine so expensive?”

The answer is simple: Our price point is a direct reflection of the cost to produce and the quality of the product. If it were cheaper to make, the cost would be lower. Likewise, if the quality wasn’t there, the product wouldn’t sell as briskly as it does.

While I wish we were getting rich, it just isn’t the case. But to us it’s always been less about profitability and more about creating something truly great. Knowing that we’re producing what we think is the best is a form of compensation for us.

Maryland is one of the more expensive places in the world to farm. The cost of land, the cost of living and cost of labor are steep. Additionally, we farm the hard way: by hand. From winter pruning, to summer hedging, to harvest, it’s all powered by sweat, not oil. This method of farming offers our vines a level of care few others experience. Our fingerprints are on every vine, every grape and every bottle. If a farmer can’t afford to farm well, we all lose. 

The barriers to entry in the wine industry are high. Without getting into specifics, establishing and managing a vineyard, equipping a state-of-the-art winery, and building a beautiful tasting room are expensive. 

Selling premium is often selling scarcity. Not to be “cool”, but because that is the nature of our small vineyards – they yield limited quantities of delicious wines. 

I’m confident that we could raise our prices and not diminish demand. But our goal is not to see how much we can fetch for a bottle. It’s not an ego game for us.

At Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard, our singular goal is to produce great American wines and sell them at the most reasonable price we can justify.