Monday, May 21, 2007

Deep Creek Cellars

On Saturday, May 19th, I decided to avoid the crowds congregating in Front Royal and Columbia and venture out to Maryland’s most western winery, Deep Creek Cellars. Located on the extreme panhandle, the winery is minutes from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Deep Creek Lake, the later which drives most traffic to the winery from its spring through autumn visitors. Deep Creek Cellars is owned and operated by Paul Roberts, who started the first vineyard in Garrett County in 1997, by planting Cabernet Franc and Vidal grapes. He also helps manage a second Garrett County vineyard grow Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Vidal. Mr. Roberts first started making home wine in the early 1990s after planting Cynthiana grapes in a leased plot in western Pennsylvania. He started from scratch, researching not only how to grow grapes, but how to operate a tractor, post a trellis, etc. After a few years making home wine, he searched for land to purchase to establish his own vineyard\winery. The result - Deep Creek Cellars. Over years, the winery has slowly gained a strong following and reputation and recently Baltimore Magazine selected it as the best Maryland winery. And now several Baltimore retail outlets carry large quantities of their wines.

Mr. Roberts is not only a self-taught expert on wine-making and grape growing, but he is also a self taught expert on grape varietals. This is evident from reading his blog and his book, From This Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana's Wine. Published in 1999, the book describes his early experiences growing wine – up to - the creation of Deep Creek Cellars.

Deep Creek Cellars offers two white wines, the Seyval-Chardonnay based Yellow Jacket White and the White Linen Reserve. Of the two, I preferred the later, which is a blend of estate & northern Virginia Vidal Blanc, southeastern Pennsylvania Seyval, and estate & California Chardonnay: three grapes from four appellations. The wine is dry, with a slight earthy flavor, the body and texture of a chardonnay and the slightly sweet-spiciness of a Vidal. This is a great blend, each grape complimenting the wine but not dominating it. On the other hand, while finishing the tasting, a patron entered specifically to purchase the Yellow Jacket White, describing it as her favorite wine.

For reds, Deep Creek Cellars offers three very good, dry wines. The Artisan Red is your everyday value wine. It is predominately Grenache and Carignan, lightly oaked, and unfiltered. It is very fruit forward with berry flavors with a smooth finish. Priced at less than 10 dollars, this is a bargain. The next wine is the winery’s best seller and my favorite, the Watershed Red Reserve. Made from Cabernet France and small amounts of Zinfandel and Petit Verdot, this wine is a home run. The aromas are amazing, often I didn’t bother sipping, and I just wanted to smell the wine. Once I did try the wine, it was great; full-bodied and dry, yet soft and smooth. It has a fruit forward cherry flavor and a smooth, slightly vanilla-ish finish. Excellent. The next red was the Ursa Major, and equal blend of Virginia Cynthiana, California Zinfandel, and California Grenache. Mr. Roberts prefers blending Cynthiana instead of making a vintage Cynthiana wine, so he chose to use two American classic grapes with the Grenache. This blend is very interesting; bold cherry flavors with a spicy finish. As much as I love each of these grape varieties, I somehow think it’s overshadowed by the Watershed Red Reserve. Finally, Mr. Roberts offered me a glass of his upcoming Cabernet Franc Rose, which he plans to bottle this summer. The wine is an excellent dry rose; dry, but soft and refreshing. This wine will be versatile, drinkable alone or with a meal. Look for it this summer.

The only downside to visiting Deep Creek Cellars is the distance, 2-3 hours from the Washington metro area. Once you reach western Maryland, there are plenty of other attractions from historic Cumberland, to Deep Creek Lake and the Youghiogheny River. Or, you could continue into West Virginia….
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