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Carroll's wine industry on the rise

Wine lovers have long had the famous wine growing regions of Napa, California and Bordeaux, France on their oenological radar, but fewer have probably planned a wine getaway to Carroll County. Andrew Baker, owner of Old Westminster Winery, thinks that will change.

"I believe that we can grow world class wine in Maryland. Carroll County ... is a great place to grow wine," Baker said.

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As the owner of Carroll County's newest winery, Baker is at the forefront of a growing local wine industry with roots going back more than 40 years.

"The first vineyards were planted in 1962, but the county was truly identified as a wine growing area by Dr. Hamilton Mowbray with his Montbray wines in the late 1960s and early 1970s," said Kevin Atticks of the Maryland Wine Growers Association.

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Things have grown since 1962. As of 2010, there were 31 acres of vines planted in the county and more have been planted since then, according to Atticks.

Presently, there are five licensed wineries in Carroll County: Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester, Old Westminster Winery in Westminster, Galloping Goose Vineyard in Hampstead, Detour Winery in Detour and Serpent Ridge Vineyard in Westminster.

"The oldest winery in Carroll is Cygnus Wine Cellars, the newest is Old Westminster Winery in Westminster," Atticks said.

Cygnus Cellars was started in 1996 and Old Westminster Winery in 2011.

Of course, with so much wine being produced in regions traditionally associated with wine growing, there remains the question of why someone would start a vineyard in Carroll County.

"Why not? Carroll County has great soils for grapevines, as well as very favorable topography," said Ray Brasfield, winemaker at Cygnus Wine Cellars.

Baker agrees.

"First and foremost, the conditions are right. We battle a bit more rain than we would like, but the elevation [750 ft] is excellent, the soils are well drained nutrient poor, and we always have a nice breeze blowing which creates an ideal mesoclimate," Baker said.

In fact, the biggest challenges faced by Carroll County's vintners have not been in the vineyards themselves.

"The problem is historic and remains even today, convincing residents that not only is Maryland a wine producing state, but that the wine is good and worthy of support from it's citizens," Brasfield said.

Working to challenge public perception can also be an expensive proposition, according to Baker.

"Financing has been the biggest challenge in starting this venture. The initial investment it takes to get establish a vineyard and winery can be staggering," Baker said.

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Assistance from local government has been extremely helpful, with the Carroll County Department of Economic Development being essential, according to Baker. In addition to partnering with local wineries and the Maryland Department of Agriculture to form the Carroll Wine Trail, the department has helped with financing and marketing.

"We help wineries with marketing and promotion by holding events on-site such as grand openings. We have utilized the Enterprise Carroll program to help with new winery start-up costs," said Denise Beaver, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development.

The county also promotes the Maryland Wine Festival, which attracts more than 16,500 people over the two-day festival held each September at the Carroll County Farm Museum Beaver said.

The wine festival is now in its 29th year and has become the largest festival held at the Carroll County Farm Museum, according to Dottie Freeman, an administrator at the museum. It has also helped spread the word about Maryland and Carroll County wines around the globe.

"I was in London when someone saw a tote bag that I had about the Maryland wine festival and said, 'I've been there, it's a great place!'" Freeman said.

Going forward, the Carroll County wine industry will continue to grow, eventually changing the nature of agriculture in the county, according to Atticks.

"There are other wineries in development as it's a great county in which to have an agricultural business. The county has worked hard over the years to ensure wineries can develop and thrive," Atticks said.

Baker is also optimistic.

"I believe the sky is the limit for the Maryland wine industry. We are on the front end of big things to come."

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