25th annual wine festival highlights Maryland's growing industry

The Baltimore Sun

Winemaking is still a tiny part of Maryland agriculture, but in recent years, it has been growing faster than your front lawn during the rainy season.

Four years ago, there were 12 licensed wineries in the state. That number nearly doubled in 2006 and just about tripled this year. At present, there are 34 wineries in the state, according the Maryland Wineries Association.

They are scattered throughout the state from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland. The industry is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.

At least a half dozen new wineries are in the process of opening later this year or in 2009.

Meanwhile, The Maryland Wine Festival will hold its 25th anniversary this month at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.

The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension service will join the festivities by staging its second event - a Viticulture Day/Twilight Meeting.

This event starts at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday with a tour of the University's Wye Research and Education Farm, and commercial vineyard in Queenstown.

Jennifer Rhodes, extension educator in Queen Anne's County, is coordinating the meeting, which will feature an informal walk-through of the vineyard.

The vineyard contains:

* Fifteen advanced disease-resistant selections from Eastern Europe and Asia.

* Linae, a new variety of grape exclusively available in Maryland.

* Demonstration plots of heat-tolerant white varieties of grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Vignoles and Chardonel.

* Demonstration plots of heat tolerant red grapes including Sangiovese, Lemberger, Carmenere, Negro-Amaro, Touriga, and Petit Sirah.

The university is promoting the event as an opportunity for anyone interested in joining the ranks of Maryland winemakers to discuss timely topics in the vineyard, such as how to sample and evaluate fruit for proper harvest timing.

For new grape growers, there will be some newly planted vines.

State cooperative extension educators and specialists will be available to answer questions and diagnose samples.

The main speaker will be Joseph A. Fiola, a viticulture and small fruits specialist with the University of Maryland. He joined Maryland Cooperative Extension in 2001 and has been working with existing vineyards and winery owners to increase production and improve quality.

He also works with new vineyard owners to expand the industry in Maryland.

Fiola has a bachelor's degree in horticulture from Cook College, a master's from Rutgers University and a doctorate from the University of Maryland. He has more than 20 years of academic and industry experience in research and extension in viticulture and enology.

The session continues into the evening with a walk-through of the Jennie and Hans Schmidt Golden Run Vineyard near Sudersville. The Schmidts diversified their farming operation by adding wine grapes. They grow both vinifera and hybrid varieties.

Jennie Schmidt will explain the reasons for choosing these grapes and the overall management of their vineyard operations. The tour will also explain the challenges the Schmidts faced, and their goals for this component of their operations.

The walk-through at the Schmidt vineyard starts at 6 p.m.

For additional information, contact Rhodes at 410-758-0166.

The Maryland Wine Festival will be held Sept. 20 and 21.

It will be held rain or shine, and no refunds will be given for advance ticket sales. No pets or alcoholic beverages may be brought onto the museum grounds.

Despite this ban on alcoholic beverages, there will be tastings of Maryland wines, live music, foods from local restaurants, arts and crafts and wine education seminars.

The festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

According to the industry trade association, Maryland wineries sold 228,657 gallons (approximately 1,154,000 bottles) of wine last year, an increase of 19.6 percent over sales in 2006.

Other industry statistics provided by the association:

* Maryland wine receipts last year totaled $12.7 million.

* Maryland's wineries produce more than 240 different wines.

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

* 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.

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