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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.


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.


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:


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. :)


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!


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!

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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!


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!


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