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Howard's first farm winery gains approval

Oakdale owners Ted, left and Veronica Mariani are planning Howard County's first farm winery at their Woodbine farm.
Oakdale owners Ted, left and Veronica Mariani are planning Howard County's first farm winery at their Woodbine farm. (Staff photo by Jon Sham)

When people told Ted Mariani he was crazy for going to Guatemala to build a pre-fabricated hospital many years ago, he wasn't deterred.

"I like challenges," the architect proclaimed. "I've always had an attitude that if you don't try things, you'll never know."

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Soon, he'll face a new challenge of his own choosing.

Mariani recently gained approval for the first Class 2 farm winery in Howard County, which he plans to establish at Oakdale, the Woodbine estate of former Maryland Gov. Edwin Warfield and where Mariani and his family now live.

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The project is made possible by a change during the 2013 comprehensive zoning process that expanded the potential uses of a farm in agricultural preservation to include wineries and agritourism, among other operations.

Class 1A farm wineries, which can be approved by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning without hearing examiner approval, permit operations that can welcome up to 50 customers at a time. Class 2 wineries, such as the one Mariani plans to open, require conditional use approval from the county's hearing examiner and allow for special events of 150 people or more, depending on the hearing examiner's decision.

The intent of the change, according to Mariani, was "to give farmers another option not available at the moment.

"Crop farming is just not viable unless you're doing 1,500 acres," he said. "If you've got a relatively modest farm, you can't make it."

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Mariani's own farm at Oakdale, which has been in preservation for 20 years, is 180 acres large and contains 70 acres of winter wheat, soybean, corn and timothy crops.

He used to breed horses, as well, but that grew to become too expensive and time-consuming. Mariani plans to use the site of his former horse pasture, an 8-acre grassy lot with a gently sloping hill, to plant his vines. He envisions planting an orchard, as well, to make fruit wines.

Though opening a winery hasn't always been a dream of his, the 2013 zoning change helped Mariani realize that his property, with its ample space, bucolic views and historic mansion, would be a prime spot for wine-making and tasting.

The Oakdale estate, bequeathed to the Warfield family by King George III in 1766, has a long history of welcoming guests.

The original federal-style brick house was built in 1838 and then expanded 60 years later with an addition on the back and wrap-around porch with Greek revival columns, where Ed Warfield did a good deal of entertaining, sometimes for famous guests such as Mark Twain, as one story goes.

Mariani, who bought the estate with his wife, Veronica Mariani, some 34 years ago, has made a few additions of his own.

In the back, the Marianis have built a solarium, with walls of glass and a fountain in the middle, that opens up into the backyard where they have a pool for summer swimming.

The solarium connects to an addition on the back of the house, still under construction, that's covered in dark wood paneling Mariani installed using antique doors. He envisions wine tastings taking place in this back room, while special events would make use of the solarium and pool deck, as well.

While Mariani hopes his winery can eventually become a venue for weddings, political fundraisers and bar mitzvahs, he's careful to note that he wouldn't be hosting large events every weekend. As a member of the Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County, Mariani has for many years advocated against projects that he felt would ruin the rural nature of his community.

"We don't think this is going to be a huge production because I don't want to overwhelm the farm. I want to keep the sense of the farm with its woods and its crops," he said. "We didn't want to see the things that go on with some of the vineyards up in Frederick, where they have huge, huge concerts and thousands of people show up."

The hearing examiner decision granting Mariani approval for the winery limits the property to 15 special events per year and requires any live music to end at 9 p.m. Mariani also plans to build a new entrance to his property with improved sight distance along Ed Warfield Road.

It will take some time before he is ready to get started: a new vineyard takes about three years to produce a good batch of wine-making grapes. Mariani says he hopes to plant the first crop in the spring.

In the meantime, he's been doing his research, with help from the Maryland Grape Growers Association and Guy Moore, of Larriland Farms.

"It's going to be a learning process," he said.

He hopes, however, that his winery can blaze the trail for other owners of preserved farmland looking for a new niche.

"I think the future of agriculture in Howard County depends on specialty farms," he said.

On his own farm, Mariani hopes the winery will help keep the land profitable for generations to come.

"I think the important thing we're trying to do is maintain historic continuity," he said. "The house was owned by the Warfields for 200 years; I'd like to see it in the family for a long time."

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