Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Maryland Vineyard Specializes in Quality Vinegar

Maryland Community Newspapers Online
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Dragonfly banks on vinegar from the vineyard
Mount Airy farm produces gourmet product from own wine
by Eli Segall | Special to The Gazette

Would you pay $55 for a 6.7-ounce bottle of vinegar? Sue Lewis and Claudia Nami hope so. Lewis and Nami own Dragonfly Farms, a Mount Airy company that manufactures wine vinegar. Bottled by hand, the vinegar has a relatively high sticker price because it’s naturally produced, and it takes roughly two years to go from vineyard to bottle.

‘‘You can’t sell that for $5 a bottle,” Lewis said.

The vinegar, produced on a sprawling 80-acre property off Talbot Run Road, might be unknown to most Mount Airy residents. The company sells it only at a farmers market in Falls Church, Va., and at wine festivals and food shows. Sales have been meager, said Nami, who would not disclose exact figures.

However, the Dragonfly brand’s visibility figures to increase a lot soon. The Whole Foods Market in Gaithersburg plans to start stocking the vinegar this spring, and Dragonfly is planning to launch a marketing campaign of direct mail and advertisements in food industry magazines, according to Lewis and Nami.

‘‘Just ask any chef about the difference between [naturally produced] wine vinegar and the shoe polish you buy in the store for $2,” Nami said.

According to data compiled by The Vinegar Institute, a trade group in Atlanta, 53 million households purchase all types of vinegar, such as balsamic, rice and cider, and wine vinegar accounts for roughly 6 percent of the overall vinegar market. Supermarket sales of bottled vinegar topped $220 million in 2006, according to the institute’s Web site, which also reports that more vinegar is sold in the Northeast, Southeast and Great Lakes region than elsewhere in the nation.

Lewis and Nami, Mount Airy women both in their 40s, dismiss the notion that their $55 price tag will scare shoppers. They say Maryland consumers will appreciate that the vinegar is locally produced with no additives, and that the company is locally owned.

Dragonfly makes its vinegar by producing wine, extracting the juice, by using a hydraulic press, and then mixing the juice with black currant vinegar. The vineyard, currants and processing and bottling facility are all on site, and are tended to seven days a week, year-round, by Lewis and Nami.

‘‘This is a classical handcraft that the French perfected in the 1700s,” Nami said.

Indeed, some chefs swear by wine vinegar. Joe Scaruzzi, head chef at Vellegia’s Restaurant in downtown Baltimore, said he uses it in salad dressing.

‘‘It gives it more flavor because of the wine taste,” he said.

Nami, a Maryland native, for years owned a T-shirt company in College Park with her husband. However, he died in 1999, and Nami, whose grandmother was raised on a vegetable farm on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, decided to enter the family business.

‘‘I wanted a change in career,” she said. ‘‘I always wanted a farm.”

Two years later she called Lewis, a Florida native was working for her family’s electronics company near Philadelphia. The two had become friends over the years as Nami bought T-shirt equipment from her.

They moved to Mount Airy in 2002, and planted their 5-acre vineyard a year later.

‘‘It’s kind of the micro-Napa Valley in this neighborhood,” Nami said, referring to the three wineries in town.

Though sales have been slow, the pair has not suffered economically; to supplement their income, they grow more than 50 types of flowers on their property and sell bouquets to wholesale distributors and florists. They also sell the bouquets at farmers markets, and supply flowers for weddings and other events.

Nonetheless, they’re eager to flood the market with vinegar. The company has enough inventory to fill 10,000 bottles, Nami said.

Dragonfly Farms
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