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Maryland Wine

Harvest 2018: Whites, Reds & Rain

Harvest 2018: Whites, Reds & Rain

Rain. Every farmer’s gleeful dream or worst nightmare.

All throughout history and all across the globe, civilizations pray desperately for rain to fall on parched land or they beg for it to cease… 

With us being rooted in Maryland (and all our Mid-Atlantic friends will say “amen!” to this…) we have a “finicky” relationship with rain and weather - we are blessed in that we experience the beauty of all four seasons to the fullest, but at the same time the weather here can have extreme shifts - changing at the drop of the hat. 

No two springs are the same.

No two summers are the same.

Which means that each fall when harvest comes around… all our harvests are most definitely never the same.

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This year’s biggest hurdle has been, you guessed it, the rain.

The good news is that the majority of Hurricane Florence stayed south of us (our best goes out to our friends in the Carolinas and Virginia!)… but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have an abundance of rain this past season.

At this point, we're not changing our plans in any significant way as a result of the rain. We've harvested a significant percentage of our grapes for white wine, pét nat and rosé over the past couple of weeks. We're happy to report everything looks and, more importantly, tastes pretty good to this point in the vintage.

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So, what's behind our good fortune? Well, no simple answer will suffice, but I think three main things contributed: 

1) Our people.

It's often said that good fortune resides at the intersection of preparation and patience… throughout the past year we have worked diligently and skillfully to find just the right individuals to add to our growing team - we haven’t rushed… we’ve waded and sifted through countless resumes and applications… it’s through that patience and diligence that we have created a team with a unified mission, value, and drive to create remarkable products worthy of the OWW label.

We cannot thank our team enough.

2) Our partners.

We are blessed to work with a band of hard-working and conscientious farmers. Their goal, like ours, is to produces grapes -- and subsequently wine -- worth celebrating. In addition to our home vineyard, we work closely with neighboring vineyards to source grapes. Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and others from Cool Ridge Vineyard perched atop a limestone hillside on South Mountain. Pinot Grigio, Viognier and Cabernet Franc from the Libertas Estate situated on a magnificent, rocky hillside in Mt Airy. Chardonnay and Muscat from the sandy, well-drained soils at Turkey Point Vineyard in North East. Our multi-vineyard, Maryland-grown approach allows us to craft wines that reflect our region’s diverse geologies and variable climate.

3) New sustainable farming practices.

We're in the process of piloting a new sustainability certification process on the east coast. Currently there are no SIP (Sustainability In Practice) certified vineyards on the east coast. It's a California based program aimed at preserving and protecting the natural environment, treating employees and the community with care, and having sound business practices with a long-term view that protects both the present and the future. For us, this involved no herbicides – we manage undervine weeds manually; no synthetic insecticides – we use stylet oil, kaolin clay organic, biological materials to manage japanese beetles, fruit flies, mites, etc.; minimal fungicides – we stylet oil, copper, sulfur, and phosphoric acid to manage powdery mildew, downy mildew, phomopsis, botrytis, etc.; biodynamics – last year we started incorporating biodynamic preparations into our farm. In particular, BD508 was in every spray we used this year and it seems to have worked some magic! BD508 is a biodynamic preparation also known as Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense) Preparation. It is a ferment or ‘tea’ style preparation that is applied direct to the soil and plant. It's traditionally used to control or limit fungal growth, especially powdery and downy mildew. It is both a preventative and curative preparation.

So with all that being said, here’s the lowdown on the grapes:

REDS

Looking ahead, we are mostly concerned about the reds -- ripening is going to be tricky… As a result, we're switching up our program to focus more on carbonic/juicy style reds this season. These styles are much better suited to fruit with lower phenolic ripeness, lower sugar content and higher natural acidity. We've even got a new 1,500 gal foeder to break in with whole-cluster CF next week. :)

WHITES

As for our whites, they're in great shape. Harvest began with a bang on Labor Day weekend. Chardonnay and Albarino came in with good yields and chemistries. Pinot Gris, Viognier and Riesling were a bit light (mostly due to rain during bloom), but the flavors and character more than made up for the loss in volume. The theme of this season's crop is lower than normal yields, moderate natural acidity and sugar levels. The fermentations are ticking away wildly and the aromas and flavors are vibrant… We have much to be thankful for!

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So as you can see, it has been an eventful season thus far… but we are on the up and up! We are expectant and excited to share our newest products with you soon; thank you for your continued support. Stay tuned for more updates!

Until next time; cheers!

Mind Share Project: Old Westminster + Aslin Beer

Mind Share Project: Old Westminster + Aslin Beer

A fundamental goal here at Old Westminster Winery is to put Maryland on the map. Maryland's diverse landscape, dynamic community, and business curiosity offer boundless possibilities for the creation of unique products and experiences.

We're not only passionate about creating forward-thinking, high-quality wines, but also collaborating with like-minded brands and businesses - joining forces to create avant-garde products.

Our intellectual curiosity and itch to challenge the status quo has given life to a new collaborative series we’re dubbing the Mind Share Project. The premise is simple: team up with our friends and create delicious, non-traditional hybrids of wine/beer/cider/spirits/kombucha, etc.! And we’re traveling all over the county in the process. After all, getting outside of our borders is vital to our vision for proselytizing Maryland’s bounty near and far!

Enter Alsin Beer Co.

Aslin Beer Co. is a distinguished brewery situated just across the Potomac River in Herndon, VA. We're excited to announce that our first Mind Share Project is in the works with these fine folks. Stay tuned for more info on what we're brewing (and fermenting!) this fall! 

Our Newest, Old-School Toy

Our Newest, Old-School Toy

Here at Old Westminster, we are passionate believers in tradition and innovation - in combining these two contrasting perspectives we get to exercise our experimental creativity... and that keeps us excited. We pride ourselves on creating beautiful, unique, and flavorful wines that embody timeless tradition infused with modern-day, new-world flair. With that being said, we’d like to introduce you to the newest, old-school toy here at OW: the amphora.

WHAT IS AN AMPHORA?

An amphora is a type of vessel that dates back as early as the Neolithic Period and is characterized by its size and shape (a small base, large, cylindrical body, and elongated spout) and two large handles. Traditionally, amphorae are handspun on large pottery wheels and are made of terra cotta (clay-based), giving them a strong red/brown/orange color.

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During the amphora production process, the body of the vessel is spun first then left to dry. Once dry, large coils of clay are added to form the neck, rim and handles. With all the details complete, the  porous vessel is ready for the makers use. 

Amphorae have historically been used to transport various products - both liquid and dry - but have most popularly been used for wine (we think for good reason). The vessel assists in the fermentation and aging process for both red and white wines and can be buried in the ground to help regulate the overall temperature. 

RETIRING CLAY, HIRING OAK.

Clay vessels of all kinds were the golden standard of winemaking in ancient Rome and Greece - not only because it predated wooden storage, but also because clay was easy to produce and took less time to create than wood. While clay vessels have many positive attributes. Wine Folly explains amphorae beautifully: “The porosity of the clay increases the oxygen exposure to wines while they age. Oxygen accelerates flavor development which includes softening tannins and increasing aromas of nuts, baked fruit, and chocolate.” However, the negative attributes of the amphorae ultimately lead to its downfall - its overall weight and breakability made it increasingly impractical to transport as trade developed and increased. With that, the age of resilient wooden barrels was born.

Wooden barrels, especially oak, became more and more popular over the centuries not only because of their strength and transportability, but because of the flavors and tannins the oak brought to the wines that it carried.

Oak wood is made up of a multitude of complex chemical compounds - each contributing flavor or textural notes to red and white wines. It’s by aging wines in oak barrels that you are able to experience flavors of vanilla, tea, tobacco and the textural “mouth feel” of hydrolysable tannins.

BRINGING IT BACK.

As wine making methods became more and more advanced, wooden barrel aging and stainless steel aging became industry standard for making some of the most popular style of wines on the market…

So why bring back the use of an amphora?

Well, because great wine is the sum of many details. Not a simple linear sequence: farming, fermentation, aging, and bottling. We are peering deeper into the sequence to find more... history, innovation, context. To our minds, this amphora is a tool in that continuum. 

We can't help but get excited thinking about how this 200-gallon clay vessel that we'll be fermenting fruit in this fall is just how the Etruscan's would have made wine in the 7th century BC!

OUR PERFECT RECIPE

What are we going to be making, you might ask?

The answer is: Ramato! That is, skin-contact Pinot Grigio.

When we say Pinot Grigio, many of you are picturing a straightforward white wine. However, Pinot Grigio has grey/copper colored skins which, when the juice is soaked with the skins, gives the wine a deep amber color. How many of you have tasted our Alius, or Seeds & Skins?

Italian winemakers have used Pinot Grigio to make Ramato in amphora for millenia. This project is a perfect way for us to put a modern, local spin on an ancient tradition. And we're excited to do just that.

Stay tuned for more!

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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.

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.

Maryland Wine and a Sense of Place

Maryland Wine and a Sense of Place

“If we don’t make mistakes daily, we aren’t pushing the boundary and challenging the system enough.” - Antonio J. Lucio

Running a vineyard isn’t easy. We’ve heard some of the romantic ideas out there. Buy some land, plant some vines, and then relax on the porch beneath a dazzling sunset. All while sipping on a glass of your own delicious wine. Like a Tuscan tycoon.

Dream on. The wine business is arduous with a lot of unforeseen twists and turns. The ground only yields to hard-working hands. There are no shortcuts for producers that are bent on the best. It’s a long road with a lot of challenges along the way.

The reality of it is years of toil before a single wine is bottled, old-school farm work all year ‘round, a metric ton of paperwork, the task of branding in a highly competitive niche, the right kind of distribution choices, and convincing the world that your wine is exceptional.

But we’d be lying if we didn’t say it’s all worth it. Especially here in Maryland. Viticulture has been here since 1648. There’s something captivating about the responsibility of carrying that legacy on in a way that redeems many misgivings about Maryland wine.

"Wine being among the earliest luxuries in which we indulge ourselves, it is desirable it should be made here and we have every soil, aspect and climate of the best wine countries, and I have myself drank wines made in ... Maryland, of the quality of the best Burgundy."  - Thomas Jefferson, October 1, 1811.

And for us it isn’t about settling for any kind of status quo. And it isn’t about turning a buck. It’s about forging a new image for Maryland wine and earning respect in a meritocracy where criticism can be so unforgiving.

But we’re up for it. We’re bent on setting the bar high in Maryland. Come, taste and see what our hard-working hands can do.