Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2009 Wine in the Woods

On May 17th I attended the 2009 Wine in the Woods festival held in Columbia Maryland. I had two motives, one to try wines produced by the half dozen and more new wineries and two, to volunteer for one of these new wineries: Terrapin Station Winery.

Terrapin Station is located just north of Elkton, close to the Delaware and Pennsylvania borders. Morris and Janet Zwick first planted grapes years ago to supply his home winemaking obsession - why use a kit. While planning to go commercial, they planted a larger vineyard in 2003 at Janet's family farm, which is now the estate vineyard for the winery. In late 2007, the first commercial wines were ready for sale. Terrapin Station Winery is unique in that proceeds from wine sales are donated to support the Diamondback Terrapin. In fact Morris and Janet Zwick bring several of these turtles to these events in order to education the public how their environment is threatened. Another negative consequence from factory farming. The other factor that makes this winery unique is that they sell their wine in 1.5 liter boxes. They skipped entirely over the closure debate (cork or twist off) and went right to the box. And this delivery vessel has its benefits. The wine stays fresher much longer after opening as compared to the traditional bottle and the box is easy to transport on boats, picnics, the beach - you name it. Plus it holds the equivalent of two bottles of wine. The downside: overcoming the stigma associated with box wines and having to constantly explain to consumers that the price is equivalent to purchasing two bottles of wine.

I started the day by helping the Zwick's setup their tent - primarily by hanging the banners. Fortunately I'm comfortable on a swaying ladder. Since my shift didn't start until 2:00, I was able to listen a little to Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings before venturing to the tasting area. The first winery I stopped at was Serpent Ridge Vineyard after reading a blog post that morning raving about their wines. The winery is located near Westminster and produces vinifera wines including an estate Vintner's Cabernet and Basilisk - both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. They were nice full bodied wines, very smooth at the tail - drinkable now. However, my favorite was their Albarino; maybe because its a variety you don't see very often.

I then hit several in row, Far Eastern Shore Winery, Legends Vineyard, Bordeleau Winery, Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery, Dove Valley Vineyard & Winery, and Mount Felix Vineyards & Winery. Far Eastern Shore Winery was interesting since they produce grape based wine, blended with fruit. I was expecting a selection of sicking sweet wines, but that wasn't the case. Even though the wines were made with about 5% residual sugar, they didn't taste that sweet. I learned that Legends Vineyard has made a home in Cal Ripkin's neighboring ballpark and even has a special brand served only at the stadium. This winery makes wine in a range of styles, but I liked their dry reds (Meritage and Cabernet Sauvignon) and their Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc. Bordeleau Winery was a nice surprise; they have two good dry reds in their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and a nice Chardonnay. With a few exceptions, I never really cared much for Maryland Cab, but that's slowly changing. Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery also produces a decent Cab as well as a several Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Interesting that they don't produce a Meritage blend. I also liked their semi-sweet Muscato - always a sucker for the muscat grape. When I visit Terrapin Station, a side trip to Dove Valley Vineyard & Winery will be added to the itinerary. Maybe during their Dog Days festival. They make a nice Vignoles and I liked their Dove Valley Red. The final winery I visited was Mount Felix Vineyards & Winery and I'm sure they had a good day. This winery produces mostly semi-sweet to sweet wines and of course I liked the Concord in their Annapolis Red. I guess it reminds me of my son's infancy; but there's a place for the concord and niagra grapes in my taste buds. In sum, nice wines, but they have a ways to go before reaching two of the best: Black Ankle Vineyards and Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.

After chowing on some Jamaican cabbage and beans\rice I headed back to Terrapin Station for my scheduled shift. Since the wines are sold in boxes, they have an interesting pouring methods. The wine is first poured into a small plastic cup attached to each box, then poured into the wine glass. It took several spilt pours until I became accustomed to the routine - pour into cup, then into glass. At today's festival the winery was pouring their complete portfolio, two dry reds, a dry white and an array of semi-sweet wines. I liked the dry wines, the Vidal Blanc, Syrah, and Cecil Red (Cabernet Franc \ Syrah blend). In fact the Vidal Blanc was one of the nicest dry versions of this varietal I've tasted in a while. However, other than the other volunteers, I was practically the only one this day. It was a sweet wine crowd. The first words out of 90% of the attendees was "What do you have that's sweet?" Fortunately Terrapin Station makes wine targeted to this audience. Of the semi-sweet wines, their Traminette Reserve was my favorite. It has the aroma and spicy finish associated with its parent, Gerwurztraminer and this version was made at about 2% R.S. I made every sweet wine drinker start with this wine. Then it was the semi-sweet Vidal, the Cayuga White, and for a closer the Five Rivers Rosé. These last three were the big sellers of the day; although my lectures on the pleasing aspects of Traminette and Gerwurztraminer won over a few souls. The frustrating part of pouring was listening to, but not being able to watch jazz guitarist Carl Filipiak and the apparent apathy of the attendees. This later may be just a result of my anal obsession with grape varieties, but no one seemed to care that the Five Rivers Rosé was produced from St. Vincent and that Terrapin Station was one of the few east coast wineries to plant this grape. No one seemed to care that the Cayuga grape was developed at Cornell or the lineage of Vidal Blanc. Instead, they just wanted to see how the wine tasted; I guess I need to get back to basics.

Volunteering for Terrapin Station was a great experience. I really appreciate the planning and level of effort that the winery proprietors must undertake in order to stock a tent. I had really started to take this for granted. I encourage everyone to contact your favorite wineries to volunteer your services. My only suggestion is to schedule an early shift; breaking down a tent is much more difficult than setting it up. More photos of this event are located at the WineCompass Facebook page or at Compass Tours.

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