Residents own and operate vineyard and winery in Westminster

"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