The family-owned winery unveiled a new public tasting room last November and events draw in wine lovers. Old Westminster features live music Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons through the end of September.
Get the full story here.
The family-owned winery unveiled a new public tasting room last November and events draw in wine lovers. Old Westminster features live music Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons through the end of September.
Get the full story here.
Old Westminster made this list! Here's the full story...
The sheer quantity and variety of good and great wine being made in this country has grown exponentially in recent decades. Wine is now produced in all 50 states, even Hawaii and Alaska (though admittedly the latter state's offerings are mostly made from fruits and berries, plus grape juice imported from more temperate climes), and there are bottles worth savoring from almost every source. Narrowing this enological wealth down to a mere 101 wineries nationwide, then, is a daunting task.
To help us meet the challenge, we reached out to about 50 experts in the field, from around the country — sommeliers, wine writers and bloggers (including our own contributors), chefs and restaurateurs, and, of course, the wine-savvy editors at The Daily Meal — asking them to nominate their favorite wineries (as many as 10 per person) and to tell us what they liked about them. Some of our respondents asked to remain anonymous, but we are happy to be able to acknowledge the assistance, in devising and ranking our list, of our regular wine writers Roger Morris, Andrew Chalk, Gabe Sasso, Anne Montgomery, and John Tilson (of The Underground Wineletter); "Food and Wine Diva" Summer Whitford, who covers many subjects for us; chef-restaurateurs Alice Waters and Norman van Aken (both members of The Daily Meal Council); sommeliers David Sawyer of Huskin Charleston, Dan Davis of Commanders Palace in New Orleans, and Eduardo Bolaños of the Terroni Group restaurants in Los Angeles; Daniel Johannes, corporate wine director for Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group; wine writers and bloggers Elizabeth Schneider, Keith Beavers, and Pamela Pajuelo; grocer extraordinaire and highly respected wine expert Darrell Corti (also a member of The Daily Meal Council); and Renée B. Allen, director of the Wine Institute of New England.
We ended up with a list of slightly more than 200 wineries, old and new, large and small, a number of them nominated numerous times. We collated the results, then factored in our own tasting notes of recent vintages, consulted the leading wine publications and newsletters, and considered recent awards from prestigious competitions.
We considered not just individual wines, though, but the overall place of each winery in the American wine scene. Is it a dependable veteran, tried and true? An audacious innovator? Does it specialize in just one or two grape varieties, or do a sterling job with 20? Is it representative of its corner of the wine country? Does it help, in one way or another, enhance the reputation of its region, and/or of American wine in general?
Though it wasn't our main criterion, we also factored in quality-to-price ratio — in other words, value. Value doesn't necessarily mean low price, of course, so there are some producers of very pricey wines represented here. But our consideration of value accounts in part for the absence from our list of some of famous "trophy wines" from the Napa Valley and elsewhere, wines priced at many hundreds of dollars on release and bought more often (we're pretty sure) as status symbols rather than as delicious things to savor — though it is also worth noting that, for whatever reasons, our panel didn't vote for some of the most famous names at all.
In the nomination process, we asked our panel to consider not just the obvious places — California, the Pacific Northwest, New York State — but the entire country. The majority of our choices, 65 of the wineries listed, did turn out to be Californian; as noted, plenty of other places are doing a good job with wine, but the Golden State is still by far the largest producing state and still boasts the largest number of great wineries. The Pacific Northwest (Idaho included) is well-represented, too — but you'll also find wineries from New York (both the Finger Lakes and Long Island), Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut among our top 101.
Among our "bests" are old-line producers that helped pioneer the mid-twentieth-century California wine revolution (Heitz Cellar, No. 6; Mount Eden Vineyards, No. 48); new small producers of great promise (Evening Land Vineyards, No. 39; Andis Wines, No. 72); top Pacific Northwestern standard-setters (Quilceda Creek, No. 5; The Eyrie Vineyards, No. 70); the best of New York State and Virginia (Red Newt Cellars, No. 42; Michael Shaps Wineworks, No. 66); and, certainly, some wineries you might not have heard of, from places that might not immediately come to mind as wine producers (New Mexico's Gruet, No. 62; Colorado's Allis Ranch Winery, No. 92).
Those who compare this year's ranking with last year's might notice that some 17 of our 2015 "bests" are no longer represented. That doesn't indicate any slippage of quality on their part; many of them received votes again this year, but the numbers just computed a little differently this time around, leaving room for some new entries. The same is true of producers who fell down the list; this doesn't mean that their wines are not as good as they were last year, only that a slightly different panel cast their votes in a slightly different way.
We're proud of the following list, and grateful to the experts who helped us compile it. We’re also excited to hear your feedback: Did your favorite American winery make the cut? Let us know which winery on our list is your favorite — or if we missed one that you love — by tweeting us @TheDailyMeal using the hashtag #101BestWineries. For the complete list, go to page two.
Old Westminster Winery gets my vote for the most exciting and dynamic wine producer in Maryland. This Old Line State winery is a family affair that dates back to 2008, when Jay and Virginia Baker (no relation) decided to plant a vineyard in the rocky soils of their Carroll County farm.
Today, they produce a wide range of whites, reds and sparkling wines that will smash any negative stereotypes you may have about wine in Maryland.
The Baker children (all in their 20s) have accomplished an impressive amount in a relatively brief period of time. Lisa crafts the wines, Drew manages the vineyard and Ashli heads up the tasting room and event planning. Together, they’re pushing the limits of Maryland wine’s potential, and turning quite a few heads (including mine) in the process.
Their 2014 Malbec was recently awarded Best in Show at the 2016 Maryland Comptroller’s Cup, and several of their other wines took home awards in this state competition.
I recently tasted a few wines from Old Westminster. These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2015 Old Westminster Winery Albariño Petillant Naturel Home Vineyard – Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Light gold color with that pleasant light spritz. Smells of lemons, limes, pineapples and apricot with floral perfume, musk and a scent of raw almond. On the palate, this is so pleasantly vibrant with subtle bubbles, bright acidity and a light but somewhat waxy texture. I get flavors of green apple, apricot and melon, but there’s a deep floral presence in this wine, like perfume, cut flower stems and cucumber water. Hints of tea and almond. Wine nerd level 11! But the deliciousness factor is right there, too. This is Maryland’s first Pet-Nat from and it’s exciting stuff. (88 points)
N.V. Old Westminster Winery Greenstone Third Edition South Mountain – Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Pale straw color. Needs to warm up show it’s full aromatic display, but the apricot, white peach and lime fruit starts to jump out — I get a moderate amount of richness (honey, sweet flowers) from the Viognier with a hint herbal spice from the Sauvignon Blanc, and the combination of these grapes is quite nice. A bouncy, plump texture on the palate, the mouthfeel is great in the way it balances out with crisp acidity. Apricots and melon mix with bright limes, the fruit is vibrant but juicy without ever being too heavy or honeyed, like some mid-Atlantic Viogniers. Some white tea and honeycomb combine with a sense of river rocks and smashed stones. Quite complex, definitely balanced, totally delicious. 67% Viognier and 43% Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel. (87 points)
2014 Old Westminster Winery Black – Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Dark, dark purple colored (hence the name?). Smells of saucy plums, black cherry cola, blackberries, there’s also this violet, sweet clove and potting soil element. Medium-plus-bodied, surprising tannic structure but it’s not too tight, pleasantly bright acidity – this wine is harmonious and balanced. The fruit is ripe but tart (plum, black cherry, wild blueberry), and I get notes of spiced coffee, clove and anise. Integrated elements of cherry wood and cedar. This really opens up and gets more and more exciting with air, and it’ll surely develop in the cellar. A blend of 38% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot and 12% Syrah, aged 18 months in French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (88 points)
I pried the crown cap off the bottle and heard a whisper of invitation. The wine fizzed gently as I poured it into the glass. Its color was golden but not bright, even a bit hazy. It smelled of fermentation: funky and fruity at the same time. The label told me it was albarino, but I might have been stumped if asked to guess the grape. The flavor was beguiling, heavier and more complex than cider but lighter and less precise than champagne.
Even more intriguing, this wine was local: a 2015 "pét-nat" from Old Westminster Winery in central Maryland.
"We love experimenting," says Lisa Hinton, Old Westminster's winemaker. It's a family operation: Her brother, Drew Baker, manages the vineyard, while their sister, Ashli Johnson, handles sales and marketing.
"There are no other Maryland producers making this style of wine, and we are among the first in the Mid-Atlantic," Hinton wrote in an email. Last year they made about 400 bottles of pét-nat from albariño and another 1,000 bottles from grüner veltliner, choosing those grapes because they can be harvested early and the process can be finished before the main rush of harvest. Their experimentation didn't stop there: They will release a syrah pét-nat in July. We can expect other wineries to follow suit.
The Mid-Atlantic is still defining itself as a wine region. When we think of Virginia and Maryland, we savor the cabernet franc, salivate over petit verdot and nod in appreciation over the Bordeaux blends. White wines offer lush viognier, crisp and racy albariño and tropical petit manseng. But when we visit local wineries, we should not pass up these experimental wines. They may be the winemaker's diversion, but they may also be unique and delicious.
Pét-nat, short for "pétillant naturel," is a style of sparkling wine made via a process that predates the more familiar champagne method. Rather than inducing a second (fizzy) fermentation in bottle and aging the wine on its lees for an extended period, as is done in Champagne, in the méthode ancestrale the wine is bottled before all the sugar has fermented into alcohol. The final stage of fermentation traps gas in the bottle, creating the bubbles. A pét-nat doesn't need aging and can be released shortly after the harvest.
Because it is made with minimal intervention and no additives, pét-nat has become a fashion in natural-wine circles, meaning iconoclastic winemakers in France and sommeliers looking to bust out of the restrictive conventions of the wine world. These wines can be unpredictable, varying from bottle to bottle. For some consumers (and wine writers), that can be a problem, but others find such unpredictability attractive. Each bottle is an adventure, if you're willing to go wherever the wine takes you rather than force it to fit your itinerary.
And for winemakers, it can be fun.
Early Mountain Vineyards, in Virginia's Madison County, also made a pét-nat of syrah from the 2015 vintage. Although fewer than 100 bottles were produced, Frank Morgan, author of the Drink What YOU Like wine blog, heralded it as "a cool new chapter to the Virginia wine story."
The wine was the creation of Early Mountain vineyard manager Maya Hood White, who said she thought "it would be nice to make a little something for the folks who help out during harvest." Even with such a small production, there was enough left to sell at the winery, making it the first Virginia pét-nat available to consumers.
At King Family Vineyards in Crozet, northwest of Charlottesville, Matthieu Finot crafts some of Virginia's finest red blends as well as a plush, fruity viognier. But he's a tinkerer. So with the 2014 vintage, he released a new "small batch series" viognier, fermented on its skins like a red wine and aged 14 months in barrel. Inspired by the "orange" wines of Georgia but made with more control over the process and fermentation, the wine is compelling. It offers tannin and structure like a red to temper the tropical-fruit characteristic of a white.
"We marketed it to our wine club members and it was gone in no time," Finot told me via email. He plans to make more this year. Soon he will release a merlot and chardonnay made without any additions of sulfur, a natural preservative.
The next time you're at a local winery, ask about its winemaker's experiments. You might discover a gem.
Using a small tool known as a wine thief to extract Petite Verdot from a barrel, Old Westminster Winery winemaker Lisa Hinton tested the red's maturity Tuesday afternoon.
Hinton said she tastes from all of the wine barrels once a month to make sure it's going in the right direction. It's diligence like this that helped facilitate the Old Westminster Winery's Best in Show win for its Malbec 2014 at the 10th annual Comptroller's Cup Wine Competition earlier this month.
"Winning Best in Show is a great honor," Hinton said. "We were awarded best wine out of the 160 tasted that day."
The competition, held June 8 in Timonium, brings together winemakers from across the state for the opportunity to taste and evaluate one another's wine. The Comptroller's Cup, formerly known as the Winemasters Choice competition, is a blind tasting: Judges only know the composition of the wine, not the label, price, intended market or any other details. Panels of five judges are given a flight of wine spanning a single category, then are asked to evaluate the wines within the category.
Old Westminster Winery is the first Carroll County winery to win Best in Show, according to Maryland Wineries Association marketing coordinator, Callie Pfeiffer.
"We hope the recognition helps with countywide tourism," Pfeiffer said.
The winery's white blend Greenstone Third Edition and Malbec 2014 each received a gold medal in both the first round of judging and then again in the semifinal round. Both wines were also awarded Best in Class for white blend and red wine, respectively.
Old Westminster is a family owned and operated winery located at 1550 Old Westminster Road. In 2009, Jay and Virginia Baker began discussing how to preserve their farm with their children, Drew, Lisa and Ashli.
Drew became Old Westminster's vigneron, cultivating the farm's grapes for winemaking. Using her chemistry education, Lisa (now Hinton) became Old Westminster's winemaker. Ashli (now Johnson) became Old Westminster's estate director, handling the winery's marketing, promotions and events.
In 2011, the family planted their first 7,600 grape vines: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Albariño. In spring 2013 they bottled their first wines and celebrated their first wine release. The family now cultivates and produces 30,000 bottles of wine annually.
About 50 percent of the grapes used are grown on 9 acres in their home vineyard. The other 50 percent are grown in other Maryland vineyards, such as South Mountain Vineyard in Hagerstown.
"Our team has set out to craft delicious wines that are uniquely Maryland," Drew Baker said. "Everything we do in the vineyard and cellar is directed toward this goal. Winning the Comptroller's Cup is a great honor and evidence that we're onto something special."
Hinton said her brother walks the vineyards on a daily basis to check the health of the vines and make sure they're producing healthy fruit. Hinton, who is in charge of the winemaking, explained that 2014's Malbec grapes looked particularly healthy.
"That made my job very easy," she said. "When fruit is healthy, it needs little to no help when processing."
Hinton said it takes a special wine to be bottled without any blending. Some wines are a blend of multiple grape varieties, but 2014's Malbec was made entirely with Malbec grapes.
Traditionally, consumers know Malbec to be very intense and bold with a high alcohol content. Malbec is grown with success in Argentina, and Hinton said the variety also grows well, though differently, in Maryland; the state's moderate climates lower the grapes' sugar content, ultimately decreasing the alcohol content.
"This Malbec is incredibly balanced, and that was our goal," Hinton said. "It's harmonious. The aromas match the flavors, which match the mouth feel and finish."
Hinton likened the Malbec's aroma and flavor to dark fruit like black cherries and blackberries. She said 2014 was a good year with less rainfall and more sunshine. Those conditions helped make the Malbec's flavors more intense.
"It was our first time working with the Malbec variety," Hinton said. "We like to experiment with a number of different varieties, and we try to try something new every year."
Hinton said she hopes the award encourages others to get more involved in the Maryland wine industry by planting more vineyards. She also hopes consumers become more open-minded about the quality of wine produced in Maryland.
"I believe that Maryland as a whole can produce world-class wines," Hinton said.
Comptroller's Cup winners
Best in Show
Old Westminster Winery, Malbec 2014 (Carroll)
2016 "Best in Class" Winners
Best White: Boordy Vineyards, Landmark Reserve Albariño 2015 (Baltimore County)
Best White Blend: Old Westminster Winery, Greenstone, Third Edition (Carroll County)
Best Rosé: Crow Vineyard, Rosé 2015 (Kent County)
Best Red: Old Westminster Winery, Malbec 2014 (Carroll County)
Best Red Blend: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Evoe 2013 (Montgomery County)
Best Cider: Great Shoals Winery, Hard Blackberry (Montgomery County)
Best Fruit: Linganore Winecellars, Mango Sangria (Frederick County)
Best Mead: Charm City Meadworks, Sweet Blossom (Baltimore City)
Best Dessert: Linganore Winecellars, Indulgence (Frederick County)
2016 "Double Gold" Medalists
A double gold is awarded to a wine that earns two gold medals; once in the first round of judging, and then again in the semifinal round
Boordy Vineyards, Landmark Reserve Albariño 2015 (Baltimore County)
Boordy Vineyards, Landmark Reserve Viognier 2015 (Baltimore County)
Crow Vineyard, Rosé 2015 (Kent County)
Crow Vineyard, Rosé 2015 (Kent County)
Linganore Winecellars, Indulgence (Frederick County)
Linganore Winecellars, Mango Sangria (Frederick County)
Old Westminster Winery, Greenstone, Third Edition (Carroll County)
Old Westminster Winery, Malbec 2014 (Carroll County)
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Evoe 2013 (Montgomery County)
I pried the crown cap off the bottle and heard a whisper of invitation. The wine fizzed gently as I poured it into the glass. Its color was golden but not bright, even a bit hazy. It smelled of fermentation: funky and fruity at the same time. The label told me it was albariño, but I might have been stumped if asked to guess the grape. The flavor was beguiling, heavier and more complex than cider but lighter and less precise than champagne.
Even more intriguing, this wine was local: a 2015 “pét-nat” from Old Westminster Winery in central Maryland.
“We love experimenting,” says Lisa Hinton, Old Westminster’s winemaker. It’s a family operation: Her brother, Drew Baker, manages the vineyard, while their sister, Ashli Johnson, handles sales and marketing.
“There are no other Maryland producers making this style of wine, and we are among the first in the Mid-Atlantic,” Hinton wrote in an email. Last year they made about 400 bottles of pét-nat from albariño and another 1,000 bottles from grüner veltliner, choosing those grapes because they can be harvested early and the process can be finished before the main rush of harvest. Their experimentation didn’t stop there: They will release a syrah pét-nat in July. We can expect other wineries to follow suit.
The Mid-Atlantic is still defining itself as a wine region. When we think of Virginia and Maryland, we savor the cabernet franc, salivate over petit verdot and nod in appreciation over the Bordeaux blends. White wines offer lush viognier, crisp and racy albariño and tropical petit manseng. But when we visit local wineries, we should not pass up these experimental wines. They may be the winemaker’s diversion, but they may also be unique and delicious.
Pét-nat, short for “pétillant naturel,” is a style of sparkling wine made via a process that predates the more familiar champagne method. Rather than inducing a second (fizzy) fermentation in bottle and aging the wine on its lees for an extended period, as is done in Champagne, in the méthode ancestrale the wine is bottled before all the sugar has fermented into alcohol. The final stage of fermentation traps gas in the bottle, creating the bubbles. A pét-nat doesn’t need aging and can be released shortly after the harvest.
Because it is made with minimal intervention and no additives, pét-nat has become a fashion in natural-wine circles, meaning iconoclastic winemakers in France and sommeliers looking to bust out of the restrictive conventions of the wine world. These wines can be unpredictable, varying from bottle to bottle. For some consumers (and wine writers), that can be a problem, but others find such unpredictability attractive. Each bottle is an adventure, if you’re willing to go wherever the wine takes you rather than force it to fit your itinerary.
And for winemakers, it can be fun.
Early Mountain Vineyards, in Virginia’s Madison County, also made a pét-nat of syrah from the 2015 vintage. Although fewer than 100 bottles were produced, Frank Morgan, author of the Drink What YOU Like wine blog, heralded it as “a cool new chapter to the Virginia wine story.”
The wine was the creation of Early Mountain vineyard manager Maya Hood White, who said she thought “it would be nice to make a little something for the folks who help out during harvest.” Even with such a small production, there was enough left to sell at the winery, making it the first Virginia pét-nat available to consumers.
At King Family Vineyards in Crozet, northwest of Charlottesville, Matthieu Finot crafts some of Virginia’s finest red blends as well as a plush, fruity viognier. But he’s a tinkerer. So with the 2014 vintage, he released a new “small batch series” viognier, fermented on its skins like a red wine and aged 14 months in barrel. Inspired by the “orange” wines of Georgia but made with more control over the process and fermentation, the wine is compelling. It offers tannin and structure like a red to temper the tropical-fruit characteristic of a white.
“We marketed it to our wine club members and it was gone in no time,” Finot told me via email. He plans to make more this year. Soon he will release a merlot and chardonnay made without any additions of sulfur, a natural preservative.
The next time you’re at a local winery, ask about its winemaker’s experiments. You might discover a gem.
Old Westminster Winery’s Malbec 2014 was awarded the “Best in Show” at the 2016 Maryland Comptroller’s Cup Wine Competition (formerly Winemasters Choice Competition), held in Timonium on June 8, 2016, Maryland Wineries Association Executive Director Kevin Atticks announced today. In addition, eight wines from across the state were named “Best in Class” in their respective categories. For more information or a list of winners, log onto www.marylandwine.com.
The Annual Comptroller’s Cup Competition is directed by Al Spoler, host of WYPR’s Cellar Notes, and brings together wine makers from across the state for the opportunity to taste and evaluate each other’s wine. The competition is blind– judges only know the composition of the wine, not the label, price, intended market or any other details. Panels of five judges are given a flight of wine spanning a single category, and then are asked to evaluate the wines within the category.
"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," said Drew Baker, Founder of Old Westminster Winery.
Old Westminster is a family owned and operated winery located at 1550 Old Westminster Rd, Westminster, MD 21157. Featuring seven reds and five whites, Old Westminster Winery is guided by four principles: Done by hand, grown in Maryland, thoughtful farming and sustainability, and meticulous attention to detail.
“The results of this competition further prove the consistent quality of Maryland Wine,” said Kevin Atticks, Executive Director of the Maryland Wineries Association
At the moment, there are probably less than seventy Maryland wineries. A large number of them are clustered around the city of Frederick, which, following Baltimore, is the second largest municipality in the state. They are in the foothills or within sight of the Catoctin Ridge, which provides ideal viticultural conditions. So it should come as no surprise that several of these are wineries of note and are producing or have the potential to produce world-class wine. Old Westminster Winery easily falls into this elite group.
It is a family-owned winery. Jay and Virginia Baker are the founders, but their three children really run the show. Drew is the vineyard manager, Lisa is the winemaker and Ashli runs the tasting room. Seven of their twenty acres are under vine and were planted in 2011. The 1700 cases produced annually are made from a combination of estate fruit and grapes sourced locally. So they are true Maryland wines and a perfect expression of what is possible in the rocky Catoctin soil.
I visited Old Westminster a couple weeks ago. It was my last stop of the day and the sky darkened with the threat of serious rain as I approached the winery. I managed to take a couple of outdoor photographs and take shelter in the tasting room just as the sky opened up. Inside, there were just a couple of visitors. There was a special members-only event at the winery, so most of the potential customers were occupied elsewhere and the weather forecast certainly had an impact on tasting room traffic.
When I entered, Ashli was conducting tastings and performing numerous other tasks unaided, but as I said, there was little traffic. I should note that after the club event ended, the numbers began to swell at and around the tasting bar. Ashli took it all in and managed everything without breaking stride on my tasting. Eventually another pourer gave her some relief, but Ashli managed the increased traffic without breaking a sweat, while pouring my wine and answering questions. It was an impressive display and spoke volumes about her dedication to customer experience. Kudos.
I must have tasted seven or eight wines. I have to say that they were all well crafted and three or four were definitely wines of note. Lisa has only been making wine for four years and I know little about her training. I do know that her background is in chemistry, which is a common theme among many of the great winemakers I have encountered. I also know that the wines are uniformly impressive and, in the end, that is what really matters. Part of this certainly takes place in the vineyard and the ripeness of the fruit was obvious in the offerings, so my hat also goes off to Drew as well.
We started off with a brilliant, perfectly-balanced Chardonnay, and then tasted a Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. These were all great wines and bottles that I would certainly open at home, but I was particularly taken with Trio, their off-dry blend. At four percent residual sugar, it is not really a sweet wine, but the sugar did emphasize the fruit and it was perfectly balanced. It is a wine made for slightly spicy fare or just to open and drink with picnic outside the tasting room.
In the end, I really thought the red blends were front-page news. Their “Revelry” is a non-vintage blend of all five Bordeaux varietals and it was drinking very well. The “Cornerstone” Syrah/Merlot blend, however, was my hands-down favorite. It is a big red with silky tannins and a beautiful finish. It is emblematic of what Old Westminster is capable of and points toward a very bright future for the wines.
It is a young team. At 28, Drew is the oldest. Jay and Virginia definitely did something right, because they are something of a dream team and it is hard to get my head around what they have accomplished. Old Westminster is a young winery, but one with infinite potential. You just have to admire what they are doing and I think you need to check it out for yourself. Make an effort to stop in and, when you do, I really want to hear your thoughts.
"Lisa Hinton was the last family member to get on board with the idea of opening a winery on her parents' farm in Westminster. She had just graduated with a degree in chemistry, and wasn't quite expecting working on a family-run winery to be her career path.
It's a good thing she finally warmed up to the concept. Hinton, 26, is the scientific brain behind the successful Old Westminster Winery. If she hadn't agreed to jump on board, she never would have discovered her talent for winemaking.
The farm had never even grown a grape until four years ago. And Hinton had never made wine. But her parents were looking for a way to put the farm's eight acres to good use and proposed the idea of starting a family-owned wine company to their three children. Once all of the siblings agreed that this was a good idea, the family planted vines on their farm with the understanding that each child would be responsible for his or her place of expertise.
Hinton's brother, Drew Baker, is responsible for business administration while her sister, Ashli Johnson, handles all of the marketing, promotions and events.
The family hired a consultant to teach them about winemaking in 2011, after Hinton graduated from Stevenson University. The next year, she spent six months in Sonoma, Calif., perfecting her skills through an internship.
"Wine is fascinating," she said. "There's so much to learn about it and you can never really know everything."
But she already knows a lot. The company's Albariño 2013 was named the Best White at the 2014 Maryland Governor's Cup Competition.
"It was the best feeling ever," she says. "When we found out it was almost kind of surreal, because I wasn't expecting it at all. I knew that we produced some really great wine, but I also know that I'm so new to the industry and you never really know if it's the best."
Hinton continues to take online classes focused on winemaking through the University of California-Davis. But the most important thing she has learned hasn't come from winemaking. It has come from working with her siblings.
"They're my best friends even outside of work," she said. "Friday night comes along, and we've worked together all week and we hang out anyway. All of our spouses are really close friends and we hang out all the time. "
By Lindsay Machak, Published: August 27, 2015
"Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit local wineries. Fall colors make the drive spectacular, and the thrill of the new harvest gives the wineries extra energy. Add these to your itinerary this year.
Old Westminster Winery
1550 Old Westminster Rd., Westminster, Md., 410-881-4656; www.oldwestminster.com
Old Westminster will open its new tasting room to the public Nov. 7, but the winery has already caught the eye and palate of local wine enthusiasts. It is run by the Baker siblings: Drew Baker manages the vineyards, Lisa Baker Hinton makes the wines and Ashli Baker Johnson manages the tasting room and customer relations. Over the past five years, they have dazzled with delicious wines; my current favorites are the 2014 whites, including a racy albariño and a zesty blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier called Greenstone. Lisa is also experimenting with an “orange” wine of chardonnay fermented on its skins."
By Dave McIntyre; Published September 26, 2015
"Cutting a vine instead of a ribbon, Old Westminster Winery's owners opened their new tasting room and event venue Thursday.
The 2,200-square-foot building at the Westminster winery can accommodate up to 74 people, and there’s room for 100 with additional outdoor space. The Baker family, which owns the winery, invested more than $500,000 in the facility.
The tasting room will open its doors for winter hours on Nov. 13, and its regular hours will be from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Visitors can try wines by the bottle, glass or flight. Guests can bring their own food or purchase breads, cheeses, charcuterie and other local products at the venue.
Founded six years ago, Old Westminster Winery is among the new wave of vintners raising the bar for Maryland wine. The state has 77 wineries total.
"The thing that's encouraging to me about Old Westminster — it's almost like the second start for Maryland Wine," Al Spoler, co-host of WYPR's "Cellar Notes" program, said at the vine-cutting. "What's happening is that young people are coming into this business and they're making what I think is a lifetime commitment to growing wine here in Maryland and turning Maryland into wine country."
Old Westminster produced about 25,000 bottles this year, and Drew Baker, one of the winery’s cofounders, said he expects next year’s production to remain consistent with that level."
By Sarah Meehan; Published November 6, 2015
"Since it's inception, visitors to Old Westminster Winery were constricted to the winery's crush pad and a small area in the winery. In order to alleviate this situation the winery built a new spacious tasting facility with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating as well as unique oak tables and countertops. And this weekend the winery is ready to celebrate the grand opening of this building."
"The Maryland Wineries Association announced the winners of the 27th Annual Maryland Governor's Cup Competition in August but hosted the awards ceremony Nov. 9 at The Wine Source in Hampden. More than 40 people were in attendance at the event, along with Commerce Secretary Mike Gill who handed out awards to the best in each category.
The August judging included more than 20 wine experts from the region who tasted more than 150 different wines. Gold medal-winning wines competed for Best in Class and Best in Show honors. Nine wines earned Best in Class awards, including Old Westminster Winery's Greenstone 2014 for Best White Blend.
The following Carroll County wineries received awards:
Gold medals went to Old Westminster Winery for its Greenstone 2014, Revelry First Edition NV, Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Somm Cuvée 2013, Tapestry Second Edition NV, and Viognier 2014.
Silver medals went to Cygnus Wine Cellars for its Manchester Hall 2014; to Old Westminster Winery for its Albariño 2014, Cabernet Franc - Home 2013, Cabernet Franc - Links Bridge 2013, Channery Hill 2012, Chardonnay 2014, Cornerstone 2013, Pinot Gris 2014 and Rosé 2014; and to Serpent Ridge Vineyard for its Cabernet Franc 2010 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
Bronze medals went to Cygnus Wine Cellars for its Cabernet Franc 2012 and Chancellor 2014."
Published December 9, 2015
"The Baker Family, owners of Old Westminster Winery, unveiled a new tasting room Nov. 5 with a vine cutting ceremony and private celebration. Guests had wine tastings and tapas appetizers, and explored the 2,200 square foot building, located adjacent to the home vineyard.
The building includes interior seated areas, tasting bar and a covered porch with tables and chairs. A nearby pavilion, patio and grassy spaces surround the building. The interior of the building accommodates up to 74 people and the outdoor areas add an additional space for 100. The tasting room opened for winter hours on Nov. 13. Regular hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Friday; noon to 9 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Live music from local bands and musicians will be featured Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The tasting room is also available for private events.
Old Westminster Winery, at 1550 Old Westminster Road in Westminster, produces red, white, sparkling and rosé wines exclusively from grapes grown in Maryland. Wines are available on site or through various wine shops and restaurants throughout the region. For more information, call 410-881-4656 or visit www.oldwestminster.com."
Published December 2, 2015
"It's truly a family affair at Old Westminster Winery in Carroll County. You can't go very far on the grounds without seeing one member of the Baker family.
I've been (somewhat) patiently waiting for Old Westminster Winery to open its new tasting room. A friend told me about this place months back, and I immediately got on the mailing list so I would know when the tasting room was done. When I got the email about this past Saturday's grand opening, I emailed my mom and told her we were going. Then my sister Beth decided to join in on the fun.
Since I have never been to this winery before, I don't know what it's old tasting room looked like. The new one is gorgeous. It looked like someone's home, with a huge front porch and beautiful lights, just begging you to come in and have a drink. Inside, there are high ceilings, a huge bar for tasting and plenty of space for people to mingle. Brandon Johnson, who married into the family, told us the father, Jay Baker, did most of the work on the building. That made it even more impressive. I would say the only drawback was it was a bit noisy. I had a hard time hearing my sister and mom, who were standing right next to me.
Brandon walked us through our flight of four wines. By day, he's a director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He admits he didn't know much about wine before marrying his wife, Ashli Baker, but he's learned quickly!
The wines we sampled were the 2014 Greenstone, the 2014 Alius, the 2013 Cornerstone and the Revelry. Here are my notes on each:
Greenstone -- a medium bodied white, soft fruit flavors, little bit of acid. If you like drier wines, this one is for you. It's a blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier. A good wine for Thanskgiving!
Alius -- they call this an "orange wine" but that's because of the color, not the taste. They leave the skins on the grapes a little longer than usual during fermentation (typically done for red wines), giving it the orange hue. It's technically a white wine and had very nice subtle flavors, another good one for your holiday meal.
Cornerstone -- a blend of syrah and merlot, it's a fuller-bodied wine with a smooth finish. A good wine to pair with your steak.
Revelry -- a twist with this wine, they blend it with rose and Bordeaux varieties. This was a little on the sweeter side, which appealed to my sister. A good sipping wine on a Friday night when you're unwinding from the work week.
Overall, my sister, mom and I had a wonderful time drinking wine, catching up and sharing a laugh. Old Westminster Winery has a dinner coming up featuring their wines and local foods prepared by Chef Paul Dongarra. Check out their website for details."
By Megan Knight; Published November 9, 2015
Old WestminsterGreenstone, white blend, South Mountain '14*** $$
(A first class blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier)
Old Westminster Viognier, South Mountain '14**1/2$$
(A very nice, crisp, firm viognier with a ton of class)
Old Westminster Albariño, "Two Vineyards" '14 ** $$
(Very well made wine, great acidity, modest fruit)
By Al Spoler & Hugh Sisson; Published August 26, 2015
"Old Westminster "Greenstone" '14 *** $$
(A super white blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier, firm and crisp)
Sugarloaf Mountain Reserve Chardonnay '14 *** $$
(One of the best chards ever made in Maryland, smooth, polished, classy)
Black Ankle "Feldspar" NV *** $$
A cabernet sauvignon dominated blend, deep flavors, refined structure, texture)
Big Cork Petit Verdot '13 *** $$
(A big bruiser of a wine, loaded with great flavors, density and class)
Turkey Point Late Harvest Vidal Blanc '14 *** $
(Essence of white peach and apricot in a bottle, sweet, balanced, impressive)"
By Al Spoler & Hugh Sisson; Published October 1, 2015
"Some families go on vacation together, have a weekly barbecue or play touch football. The Baker family of Westminster makes wine. In 2010 the family of five decided to launch a business plan to turn their 17-acre property into Old Westminster Winery, where grapes are grown and processed into wine.
In 2011, the Baker family planted their first harvest and on June 8, 2013, they had their grand opening and invited the public to their winery to taste their products. During the summer and fall months, with the exception of this year due to a construction project, the winery is open for weekend wine tastings.
They are currently building a tasting room that is estimated to be finished by late October and will be a venue for weekend wine tastings as well as weddings, receptions and reunions.
Ginger and Jay Baker and their children Drew Baker, Lisa Hinton and Ashli Johnson, are each one of the puzzle pieces of Old Westminster Winery, at 1550 Old Westminster Road in Westminster.
The idea of a winery started when Ginger and Jay tried unsuccessfully to sell their house and land, which they had never farmed but had rented out to local farmers. Then the conversation turned from selling their property to thinking of a way to make the land work for them, Ginger said.
"My husband thought of the idea of a vineyard. We did some research [and] pitched it to our children knowing that it had to be all-in or it really just wasn't going to work," Ginger said.
Then they prayed about it, discussed it as a family and decided that owning and operating a vineyard and winery was a feasible plan, Ginger said.
Even before the Baker family knew that they were going to run a business together, each family member was working toward a different element that now helps them run their business.
In 2009, all three siblings were still in college and majoring in different fields. Drew was going for management, Hinton for chemistry and Johnson for marketing.
"So the pieces started fitting together before we even kind of planted in 2011," Johnson said.
When their parents approached them with the idea, Johnson said that she and each of her siblings had different perspectives.
"In 2009, I was only a sophomore in college, so having the idea of starting and operating a vineyard and winery with my family was the absolute most incredible career opportunity that I had heard of at that time," Johnson said. "And when we began researching it and experiencing it as a family, there was no other opportunity that I thought would be more adventurous and fun."
As the person who interacts the most with the customers by arranging events and weekend tastings, Johnson said that she thinks she has the most enjoyable job of everyone.
Drew was a senior in college when his parents started discussing the idea of a winery.
"Initially, I [thought] it was kind of a crazy idea, kind of a pipe dream … the more we learned, the more doable it became, and 2010 we decided to go for it, and we've been going 100 miles an hour ever since," Drew said.
Drew is the unofficial leader of their business, Hinton said: He looks for good business ideas and makes them happen. He also manages the vineyards by working the fields and coordinating the field hands.
Hinton was the last member of the family to get on board. As a junior in college and a chemistry major, Hinton said that she was a collegiate athlete who loved school and could hardly see past graduation.
Johnson said that even though Hinton was the last to jump into the family business, she is one of the most important players.
Hinton's background in science lends to her role as the wine maker for Old Westminster Winery, she said. She understands the chemical reactions behind fermentation that turns grapes into wine, Hinton said.
The person who keeps the entire operation flowing smoothly is their mom, Ginger, said Hinton. Ginger does all of the behind-the-scenes work that allows everyone else in the family to do their jobs without being slowed down, Hinton said.
"We say that she's the rudder of this ship because it controls the success of the business and moves us forward," Johnson said.
Lastly, their dad Jay is the "hands and feet" of the whole operation, Johnson said.
Jay is not only a part of Old Westminster Winery, but is also a carpenter for his construction company, Angle Contractors, which he operates along with the winery. Jay built his house, the winery where the wine is made and is also in the process of building the new tasting room for Old Westminster Winery.
The only way the winery is possible is because of Jay, who is able to do the work that they would have had to pay somebody else to do, Drew said.
Family friend David Miles has watched and also helped Old Westminster Winery become what it is today. Miles assisted the Bakers in the early stages of creating the vineyard by preparing the grape vines to be planted and is currently building the tables that will be used for the tasting room.
"They've grown. Every year they've grown. What they're doing is working," said Miles, who has known the family for 14 years.
At the 2014 Maryland Governor's Cup Competition, Old Westminster's Albarino 2013 was awarded best white wine and brought home a gold medal. At the 2015 Maryland Winemaster's Choice Competition, Old Westminster's Greenstone 2014 was awarded best white blend wine and a gold medal. Trio 2014 was also awarded a gold medal at the Winemaster's choice.
"The awards attest to how good a job they've done, how good their wine is…certainly the customers attest to that. There's no denying they're a top notch winery," Miles said.
What sets the Baker family apart from other wineries, Miles said, is their thoroughness in handling each facet of the industry — from picking the fruit and producing the wine to getting it into stores and restaurants.
"They pour themselves into what they do and they discuss it and they breathe it and live it," Miles said.
Part of the Baker family's success stems from their ability to work together to create new ideas for their business, Miles said. Although there are five different opinions coming from five different people, Miles said, they all listen to each other's ideas so that every business decision is thoroughly discussed.
As with any siblings, there are times when ego gets in the way, Drew said, but the success of their business reflects their ability to work together.
"Obviously there are times where conflict comes up, but overall I think we do a really nice job of sort of nipping it in the bud and coming back around to finding common ground," Drew said.
Hinton said that it is "awesome" to work alongside her brother and sister.
"We're all best friends even outside of work, and I think that a key to working with siblings is that you make time for each other outside of your business," Hinton said.
Old Westminster Winery may have started as a business opportunity, but it has evolved into much more, Johnson said.
"It's really turned into a passion for everyone. It's not just a business," she said.
Published August 19, 2015
"Inventory often is a problem for new wineries, and Old Westminster struggled for awhile with the same issue. Some of that was resolved, Drew said, in late April, when the winery bottled its wines for spring. "Prior to that, we were just about sold out of everything," he said. "At this moment in time, we do have wines to sell, which is a good place to be."
By Paul Vigna, Published: June 30, 2015