Monday, August 21, 2006

Great Story About Small Winery in Maryland

Wicomico winery wins favor
By Deborah Gates
Staff Writer
The Daily Times - Salisbury, Md.
August 6, 2006

ALLEN -- Tom Shelton walked his vineyards Friday as he customarily does this time of year, checking roots and drip-system sprinklers and red, but mostly green, grapes dangling from rows and rows of vines. He's been corking bottles of wine from grapes grown in his Wicomico County vineyards since 1999, and doling them out to family and friends the only way the law would allow: Free of charge.

But 2006 should be the best year yet for his Bordeleau Winery on Noble Farm Road.

Grapes pulled from Shelton's vines in September and October -- and suitable for a light and medium-bodied sauvignon blanc, a fruity chardonnay, an early maturing cabernet franc or a merlot -- are close to finding their way into bottles for retail sale.

Last week, the Wicomico County Board of Appeals approved Shelton's request for a special exception to market bottled wine from vineyard grapes at his farm's Bordeleau Winery. The measure marked a milestone in Wicomico agribusiness history, paving the way for the first county grape grower to sell self-bottled wine retail at his farm and host public wine-tasting events, said Clark P. Meadows, county zoning administrator.

"His winery is the first in the county that I know of and this is the first form of that use," Meadows said.

The measure, which Meadows anticipates Appeals Board Chairman J. Phillips Wright, Jr., to sign, would become final after a 30-window for citizen comment. "We had no opposition at the (public) hearing and we don't expect any," he said. "A couple of people who called from the community were supportive."

Permissions still must come from federal and state agencies, and Shelton also intends to apply for a license that would allow him to distribute his wine products to licensed retailers.

The proposal mirrors the vision of the Wicomico County Comprehensive Plan that, during a 2002 revision, was expanded to include an agribusiness special exception provision for property zoned for Agriculture 1 usage, Meadows said.

"This is consistent with the goals and direction of the comprehensive plan for diverse businesses, potential exporters of goods and the provider of income," he said. "It creates diversity in agricultural usage in the county."

According to 2003 data from the Peninsula Wine Institute, an agriculture cooperative for the region's grape growers and enthusiasts, a one-acre vineyard on average could produce three tons of grapes, or between $1,200 a ton or $3,600 an acre.

Family farms on the Lower Shore are on a rapid decline, with a loss rate of more than 30 percent between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, according to the Department of Agriculture. And Kevin Atticks, executive director at the Maryland Wineries Association, said Shelton could anchor Maryland's wine industry as an alternative agribusiness in the region.

"It would help foster a wine tourism industry, and begin the process of converting more land into vineyards," Atticks said Friday, and counted 23 licensed wineries in the state. Shelton, one of about 40 grape growers in the region, would be among four statewide expected to be licensed this year, he added.

The Bordeleau facility would be family-operated, offering wine by the bottle from a retail shop in the 6,400 square-foot winery on a 4.5-acre spread southwest of Allen and close to the Somerset County line. The business also would house a tasting room, and Shelton envisions special tasting events against the rural backdrop of mostly farmland off the Wicomico Creek that includes two vineyards and open space.

The business would be a trendy alternative for out-of-town shoppers, said Sandy Fulton, director of the Wicomico tourism division that annually hosts the county Autumn Wine Festival.

"To have our own winery is like putting us on top of the mountain," Fulton said Friday. "We are not a destination for travelers, and with conventions, we could arrange to tour the winery. It is an absolute dream come true."

For now, Shelton tends his grapes -- 726 vines per acre and spread over 10-foot rows.

"It's a lot of work," he said. "I started planting in 1999, and I'm pretty excited. I wasn't sure that I'd like to do it; I was feeling my way through."

Wines bottled before all permits and licenses are granted would not qualify for retail sale, and since the aging process typically requires between six months and a year, and it could be summer again before consumers sip the season's harvest, Shelton said.

He is hopeful, though, that a Bordeleau sauvignon blanc that requires less aging will be ready, although a bit "green," for the October wine festival.

And so is Fulton.

"We have 14 wineries registered at the festival this year, and all are from out of town," she said. "(Shelton) would be No. 15 and the first one from our county. To have a local grower attending, I'm ecstatic."

About the 4th Annual Wicomico County Autumn Wine Festival

Where: Pemberton Historical Park, off Nanticoke Road outside Salisbury

When: Oct. 21 and 22

Information: To participate, visit