Easing of laws, promotion of trails aid Maryland wineries

Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2010 via carrollcountytimes.com

In 2000, there were 10 wineries open in the state of Maryland. Half a dozen more had existed in the state before that time but went out of business for one reason or another.

A decade later, the Maryland Wineries Association can boast of four times as many wineries, with a sale of 278,118 gallons of wine in fiscal year 2009. That’s only a 2.9 percent increase over 2008, which had a sale of 270,280 gallons, which was an 18.2 percent increase over 2007, according to the association’s website.

“There are currently 42 licensed wineries, four applications pending for this fall and I know of about 15 that are in the works,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the MWA.

For a state that’s not known for its wine production, Maryland seems to be becoming the next state to watch out for.

“Maryland has gotten good press for its wines – there are excellent wines produced there, and local Marylanders who haven’t tried them should,” said Cary Greene, chief operating officer of WineAmerica, the National Association of American Wineries.

Reasons for growth

While there have been some key factors that have made opening a winery in Maryland easier in the past decade, Atticks said it’s hard to pinpoint why so many people have gotten into the industry in such a short period of time.

“Just a lot of folks are having the bright idea the past couple of years that this is what they want to do,” Atticks said.

According to the Wine Market Council, the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is one of the top 10 wine markets in the country, Atticks said, and is generally an area with an above-average interest in wine and with many consumers who are willing to try new varieties.

“There’s a wine culture in Maryland, and a good number of people who like wine are starting to ask ‘What can I do? Can I do this here?'” Atticks said.

There are a lot of laws regarding the manufacturing, sale and distribution of alcohol, and some of these laws used to discourage interested parties from opening a winery. The association has worked over the past decade to change county and state laws to make it easier for wineries to open and operate, and they believe the work is paying off.

“We’ve seen, in the last few years, brand-new counties open up to wine industries: Cecil County, Calvert County, St. Mary’s County, soon Howard County, and there are in each of those [counties] folks waiting in line to open wineries,” he said.

A law that the association lobbied to have changed in 2000 officially allowed wineries to pour samples for visitors and sell wine by the glass, Atticks said. It was something that most wineries were doing without trouble, but technically there was no law stating that it was permissible.

During the most recent state legislative session, the MWA was excited to have the Maryland Winery Modernization Act passed, which removed some of the unusual details of laws surrounding wineries, such as the requirement to provide a tour of the winery before serving samples and restrictions on what kind of food could be served or purchased at wineries.

Local jurisdictions still have the right to approve or deny their local winery applications, Atticks said, but once something is deemed and approved as a winery, it has equal rights in all areas of the state.

“The law is filled with little potholes and black holes and areas for interpretation, so we’ve been working over the last decade trying to close those gaps to make sure that what we read is what the state understands, is what wineries are allowed to do,” Atticks said.

Better promotion

The MWA has also formed several “wine trails,” or groupings of wineries with brochures to help guide visitors from each of the wineries to the others, encouraging wine enthusiasts to visit more than one at a time and to stop and explore the small towns nearby.

The first was the Frederick Wine Trail, which debuted in 2007, followed by the Piedmont, Patuxent and Chesapeake area wine trails in 2009. One specifically for Carroll County debuted this summer.

The idea of wine trails came out of New York, Atticks said, where they were introduced as a way to promote wine regions that were not well known as wine areas, such as the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

“Their rule of thumb was if you’ve got three wineries, you’ve got the making of a wine trail,” Atticks said.

The idea of a wine trail is not just having people visit a winery, Atticks said, but getting them out into a region, spending an afternoon or a day, where they’ll often find a small town in the local area to have lunch or dinner.

“They can help bring tourists and bring tax revenue into these areas and help the small businesses,” Atticks said.

Karen Fedor, of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said she thinks the “buy local” movement has really helped Maryland wine sales.

“People want to buy locally their fruits and vegetables, and that extends over to wine, too,” Fedor said.

Maryland’s sub-regions each have their specialties when it comes to growing different varieties of grapes, Fedor said, and that means producing different wines that customers may not expect. The wineries have done a good job of educating people about their grapes and wines, she said, which allows people to better appreciate them for what they are.

“I think as more and more people become aware that Maryland does have good wine, it [spreads by] word of mouth,” she said. “I think Maryland is definitely putting itself on the map.”

Reach staff writer Carrie Ann Knauer at 410-857-7874 or carrie. knauer@carrollcountytimes.com.

 

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