About Old Westminster Winery
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.