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Socially distant day trips: Winery and vineyards around Anne Arundel County

The winery at Thanksgiving Farms stands out for its beautiful 1893 Queen Anne Victorian cottage, a structure that’s on the national registry of historic houses.
The winery at Thanksgiving Farms stands out for its beautiful 1893 Queen Anne Victorian cottage, a structure that’s on the national registry of historic houses. (Photo Courtesy of Thanksgiving Farm Winery)

After months of canceled weekend trips and postponed outings, businesses are adapting and encouraging guests to visit with updated coronavirus pandemic safety guidelines.

A trip to a winery or vineyard is an activity uniquely positioned to easily follow public health guidelines. Most wine tastings are outside during the summer months. Groups, now limited to six people or less, sit at tables spaced six feet apart. Acres of land filled with grapevines are fun to roam.

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“Maryland is still a very young industry,” said Regina Mc Carthy, director of client services at The Vineyards at Dodon in Davidsonville. “Even winemakers from other places are looking at Maryland as a great opportunity for a premium wine-growing region. It’s an exciting time to grow wine here.”

August is also a great time to visit a vineyard because it’s right before the harvest. Grapes are picked at the beginning of September and guests can see the grapes sorted, pressed and fermented into tanks and barrels over the next few months.

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“Harvest is like our Super Bowl,” Mc Carthy said. “To actually see the processing is a lot of fun.”

There are three wineries in Anne Arundel County.

Here’s what you need to know before you go:

The Vineyards at Dodon

Six different types of grapes grow on The Vineyards at Dodon’s 16 acres. Those grapes make seven types of wine: three dry table whites, a dry rosé and three red blends.
Six different types of grapes grow on The Vineyards at Dodon’s 16 acres. Those grapes make seven types of wine: three dry table whites, a dry rosé and three red blends. (Photo Courtesy of The Vineyards at Dodon)

Six different types of grapes grow on The Vineyards at Dodon’s 16 acres. Those grapes make seven types of wine: three dry table whites, a dry rosé and three red blends.

Owners Tom Croghan and Polly Pittman began planting in 2010 and opened their winery in 2013. Pittman is sister to county executive Steuart Pittman, who has said he doesn’t have a financial interest in the winery.

Restaurants that work with The Vineyards at Dodon tend to offer its rosé and sauvignon blanc options, although the vineyard “takes great pride in our red blends as well,” Mc Carthy said.

In pre-COVID times, the winery at the vineyard offered tours and tastings by appointment twice a day from Thursday through Sunday. Now it’s limited to six guests rather than 12. Guests will sit at a big table that’s socially distant.

People can also reserve a picnic table outside with views of the rolling hills and order bottle service. Bottles of wine range in price from a $20 rosé to a $60 Orinoco red. Guests are encouraged to bring their own picnic food or pre-ordered snacks from the winery.

Outdoor table reservations include a $25 reservation fee that’s refunded if you join the wine club. A membership includes educational walks, dinners and holiday parties, among other perks.

“We felt like we have an opportunity to open up the space a little more to members of our community who really needed some fresh air and green space, and a beautiful view, in a very safe atmosphere,” Mc Carthy said.

Reservations can be made online at https://www.dodonvineyards.com/outdoorreservations. The winery is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Great Frogs Winery

Great Frogs Winery mailed a personal wine tasting to its club members during the lockdown as an activity to do while stuck inside. Now the winery is back hosting guests at it’s 27-acre farm located on Harness Creek Road in Annapolis.
Great Frogs Winery mailed a personal wine tasting to its club members during the lockdown as an activity to do while stuck inside. Now the winery is back hosting guests at it’s 27-acre farm located on Harness Creek Road in Annapolis. (Photo Courtesy of Great Frogs Winery)

Great Frogs Winery mailed a personal wine tasting to its club members during the lockdown as an activity to do while stuck inside. Now the winery is back to hosting guests at its 27-acre farm located on Harness Creek Road in Annapolis.

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The farm has operated a commercial winery for 10 years mostly on a reservation-only basis, making the switch to socially distant wine tasting appointments easy. Owner Andrea and Nate O’Shea picked the name Great Frogs as a label that’s fun and easy to remember.

“We wanted something that was going to stand out but make people realize that wine can be not as serious as they might think it needs to be,” Andrea O’Shea said. “A lot of times people can be intimidated by wine. We wanted to take out the intimidation factor.”

Great Frogs has a vineyard in Annapolis and on the Eastern Shore, along with grapes purchased from local growers. The winery mainly has dry wines: three whites, a rosé, and four reds. The red blend varietals consist mostly of French grapes. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Serrat, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are grown on-site.

Cold-blooded, red wine with striking fruit notes, and Vintner’s Red, an oak-forward red blend, are among the most popular, O’Shea said. Bottles range in price from a $25 white to a $50 red.

Tastings that are pre-booked online include a cheese plate, but guests can also walk in and get a to-go tasting to sip under a tent on the patio or have a picnic among the grapevines. Groups are limited to six people or less.

The winery also hosts live music shows some weekends and other fun events like a “peddles, pours and pics” day. On Saturday, August 21, a local florist will teach guests how to make a flower crown followed by a professional photoshoot.

Reservations can be made at https://www.greatfrogs.com/visit. The winery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Masks are required inside the visitor center.

Thanksgiving Farm Winery

The winery at Thanksgiving Farms stands out for its beautiful 1893 Queen Anne Victorian cottage, a structure that’s on the national registry of historic houses.
The winery at Thanksgiving Farms stands out for its beautiful 1893 Queen Anne Victorian cottage, a structure that’s on the national registry of historic houses. (Photo Courtesy of Thanksgiving Farm Winery)

The winery at Thanksgiving Farms stands out for its beautiful 1893 Queen Anne Victorian cottage, a structure that’s on the national registry of historic houses. Thanksgiving Farms Winery, located on Harwood Road in Harwood, was the first commercial winery in Anne Arundel County, said owner Maureen Heimbuch.

The property is equally as pretty, with rolling hills and beautiful old trees. The winery has veranda seating and a picnic area on the porch.

“I think we offer a very safe environment and our customers have been very appreciative,” Heimbuch said. “We’ve had a lot of new customers … People just want to be outside someplace.”

Maureen and Doug Heimbuch have grown grapes on 12 acres of their 58-acre land since 1998 and received their license to run a commercial winery in 2006. They concentrate on red Bordeaux blends called Meritage since American wine can’t be classified as a Bordeaux. That label is reserved for wine made in the Bordeaux region of France.

There are seven different wines on the Thanksgiving Farm label that are predominately Merlot based: three Meritages, a farmhouse red blend, a Franc Blanc (white juice from red cabernet franc grapes that fermented off their skin), a white Meritage called Towhee after a bird that frequents the farm, and a dessert wine.

During the pandemic, the winery is offering outside seating and only two customers can come inside the tasting room at a time. Groups are limited to six people.

The winery used to never require reservations. Reservations are now encouraged, but not mandated, to get a spot at the picnic area or the veranda.

To-go tasting kits are $40. Bottle prices range from $25 to $30 and a reservation fee is $40. That fee applies to any purchase made at the winery.

Thanksgiving Farm Winery is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Picnics are welcome. Reservations can be made at https://www.thanksgivingfarm.com/.

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