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Harwood couple produces wine for decades, while protecting Chesapeake Bay

At first, it was just a hobby for the Heimbuchs.

Longtime wine lovers Maureen and Doug Heimbuch decided in the 1990s to transform their property in Harwood, once used for agriculture, into a vineyard. It would become one of the first in Anne Arundel County.

The Heimbuchs have continued to expand the winery over the years, resulting in barrels of wine continuously populating their home, which is also on the property.

"When we got to 7 acres, we said we should turn this into a business or we should stop," Doug Heimbuch said.

The couple, owners of the 13-acre Thanksgiving Farm Winery, has sold wine in the county for about a decade. This spring and summer, the winery will offer tastings to local residents.

It's one of three commercial wineries in the county and is the only one located in south county. Thanksgiving Farm is run entirely by the Heimbuchs, who contract a landscape company to help with the vineyard.

At first, the couple planted a hybrid of North American and European grapes, since those were recommended for the climate. While results were OK, the couple has always preferred to drink European red wine.

"So I said 'Let's just try it. Who cares if people say you cant grow it here,'" Doug Heimbuch said.

The Heimbuchs found success in the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes to where they eventually pulled all of their original hybrids. After receiving their commercial license in 2006, Thanksgiving Farm sold its first wine, a 2007 vintage, in 2009.

The winery now sells five different types of wine: two dry red wines, a dry white wine, a fortified sweet wine and a dry red Cabernet Franc blend. The prices range from $17.95 to $24.95.

Thanksgiving Farm is also one of the few wineries in the state that makes all of its wine out of grapes it grows on its vineyard, the couple said. Maureen Heimbuch added the wine industry has evolved over the years to where dry wines have become more popular than sweeter wines.

One of the winery's most popular wines is the Thanksgiving Farm Franc Blanc. It is made from a French winemaking process, saignée, where some of the grapes' juices are pumped out right after they're crushed and before the fermentation process begins.

This process increases the ratio of skin to the remaining juices in the tank, Doug Heimbuch said. When they do this for the Cabernet Franc, the wine comes out in a gold color. The winery sells it as a white wine and has a federal trademark for its name.

The couple believes theirs is the one of the few wineries in the country that makes a white wine from Cabernet Franc.

"We work really hard to grow our grapes, so we're not going to throw anything away," Doug Heimbuch said.

Thanksgiving Farm has also received praise from the Department of Agriculture for how the Heimbuchs have planted the vineyards.

The couple still have full-time jobs in the environment industry; Doug works as a fishery scientist and Maureen does environmental regulatory work. When they decided to turn the land into a winery, they said they wanted to do it in a way that protects the Chesapeake Bay from potential runoff.

"We're very much interested in preserving the land and being good environmental stewards," Maureen Heimbuch said.

Since the vineyard is on a hill, runoff into the bay could occur if a big storm hits. The Heimbuchs worked with the county's soil conservation district to plant the vineyard the opposite way. There's also a permanent grass strip between each row, which reduces the velocity of the water going down the hill and traps sediment.

The couple said they don't plan to expand the winery anytime soon. The vineyard produces 400 to 500 cases a year, which is considered a small production. The current size allows the winery to remain family-run and have the Heimbuchs interact personally with customers.

"This isn't a big factory. This is our home," Doug Heimbuch said. "So when customers come down we try and treat them like they're guests in our home."

When you go

Tastings are $10 and available at the winery from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from April to December. The winery, 195 Harwood Road in Harwood, doesn't provide food, but customers can brings snacks or a picnic.

To purchase wine, visit www.thanksgivingfarm.com.

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