State grants uncork growth opportunities for local winemakers

The Baltimore Sun

Winemaking is still a tiny part of Maryland agricultural industry, but with some assistance from state government, it is growing at a healthy rate.

In 2004, there were only 12 licensed wineries in the state. That number jumped to 22 in 2006 and to 31 this year, according to the Maryland Wine Industries Association.

State officials think there is room for even more.

The Governor's Advisory Commission on Maryland Wine and Grape is offering $147,000 in grants this year to be used for a variety of projects to put more made-in-Maryland wine in the glasses of consumers.

The grants, which are processed through the Maryland Wine and Grape Promotion Fund, can be used for projects to improve the wine industry, according to Karen Fedor, an agriculture-marketing specialist with the state Department of Agriculture.

"We are trying to increase wine production," she said, "and all the grants would need to have state-wide application."

She said the grants can be used for marketing, research, advertising, retail/festival promotions and educational seminars.

Grant applications are due by Aug. 15.

Since the program's inception four years ago, it has made nearly $450,000 available for wine and grape promotion and research projects.

Last year, funds were allocated for 10 projects, including $50,000 to continue the state's vineyard capital assistance program.

The program pays state farmers to grow the grapes needed to produce more bottles of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and other wines.

It reimburses growers between $2 and $2.50 for each grapevine planted.

Under an industry requirement, a bottle cannot be labeled "Maryland" unless 75 percent of the juice in the wine comes from state-grown grapes.

Only about half of the wine produced in the state is currently made from grapes grown here.

The grant program also provided $7,500 to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension to help cover the cost of operating four experimental vineyards and processing facilities.

According to the industry trade association, Maryland wineries sold 228,657 gallons (approximately 1,154,000 bottles) of wine in 2007, an increase of 19.2 percent over 2006.

Other industry statistics provided by the association:

* Maryland wine receipts last year totaled $12.7 million.

* Maryland's wineries produce over 240 different wines.

* Maryland wine is sold at more than 600 retailers and is served at over 100 restaurants.

* Maryland wineries grow most of the grapes in the state, comprising nearly 120 acres of vineyards.

* Grape growers in the state harvest an average of 800 tons a year.

* There are more than 450 acres of grapevines planted in the state.

Winemaking is not new to Maryland. The first recorded instance of winemaking can be traced to shortly after The Ark and the Dove landed at St. Clements Island in 1634 with the first European settlers.

But wine didn't catch on the way other crops did, including tobacco. It was nearly 300 years before the first state-bonded winery - Boordy Vineyards - opened in Baltimore County in 1945.

The industry continued to struggle. A second winery opened in 1962, but closed 30 years later. The third opened in 1974 and closed in 1983.

Wine is a much bigger business in other parts of the country.

California is by far the leading wine-producing state. Production reached a record 457 million gallons last year. Sales jumped 6 percent last year to $18.9 billion.

California accounts for nearly 90 percent of the U.S. wine market. New York, the second leading wine-producing state, accounted for about 3 percent of the market last year.

Cover crop cash

Farmers who plant cover crops this fall to reduce nutrient runoff, control soil erosion and protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries may be eligible to receive up to $85 an acre in cost-sharing grants.

The state Department of Agriculture's Winter Cover Crop program provides the grants. The sign-up period for farmers runs from June 23 through July 8 at local soil conservation district offices.

"Cover crops are one of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to protect the bay and its tributaries from nutrient runoff," said Gov. Martin O'Malley.

For additional information on applying for a grant, contact the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share program office at 410-841-5864.

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