Sunday, July 06, 2008

First Co-op Winery in Maryland a Work in Progress

Grapevines growing, but co-op winery has still to take root
Goal remains to sell local wine by 2010
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Staff writer
Southern Maryland Newspapers

The vines are growing and the members of the Southern Maryland Winery Cooperative are ready to get a winery under way in Leonardtown.

Though there was a ceremony in 2006 to kick off the winery, the location off Route 5 next to the bridge over McIntosh Run has remained unchanged. The old State Highway Administration garage is still sitting there.

Bob Schaller, St. Mary’s County’s director of economic and community development, told the county commissioners Tuesday that the cooperative was ‘‘a group ready, willing and able. The real issue is they’re ready to go.”

There are now 17 members in the cooperative, growing more than 13,000 grape vines on 20 acres collectively. When the vines are mature, there should be enough grapes to make 8,000 gallons of Maryland wine.

But the cooperative needs licenses and a facility to produce and sell the product. That will come with the renovation of the old state highway garage.

But work has to start now, if the timetable is to work out, said Caroline Baldwin, vice president of the cooperative.

Renovation must be complete by next January and all licenses need to be in hand by July 2009 in order to ready for the first crush in August 2009. The first wine sales are expected in the summer of 2010.

David Wood’s family farm in Mechanicsville has transitioned from growing the cash crop of tobacco to other alternatives such as greenhouse plants, fruits and grapes.

While not as lucrative as tobacco, ‘‘it’s a substantial amount of income that we can use as an alternative,” he said.

And the demand is there for grapes grown in the state.

‘‘At this point, there is a shortage of Maryland grapes” necessary to make Maryland wine, Wood said.

To be considered true Maryland wine, the beverage must be made up of at least 75 percent of grapes grown in the state.

Membership in the Southern Maryland wine cooperative is not limited to the region. Baldwin’s farm where grapes are grown is on the Eastern Shore.

‘‘We don’t really have a lot of time to get construction started” at the winery site, she said.

Not all of the funding is in place and the shortfall will be addressed in the cooperative’s capitalization plan.

But despite the length of time involved in the project so far, Leonardtown Mayor J. Harry Norris said, ‘‘When you have a project of this magnitude ... and on the waterfront ... I think it’s moved at blinding speed.”

Here's another piece on this amazing story:

Leonardtown Toasts Launch of New Winery
Posted on October 31, 2006:
County Times Newspaper
So. Md. This is Living Magazine
By David Noss

LEONARDTOWN, Md. - Today, in warmer than usual weather, the Commissioners of Leonardtown joined with the Board of County Commissioners, representatives of the local grape and wine industry, political hopefuls, and local citizens to toast the launch of the Port of Leonardtown project. The project is a collaboration of several government entities, local farmers, and businessmen that will yield a multi-purpose, 3-acre, tourist and recreation area right next to Route 5 and McIntosh Run.

On what used to be a State Highway Administration maintenance facility will sit a park that contains a kayak launch, a picnic area, a winery, and a grape vineyard demonstration area. Officials are currently negotiating with the recently formed Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative to supply the grapes and operate the winery. The State is working to help yesterday’s tobacco farmers become tomorrow’s grape growers.

The proposed winery was the subject of today’s event. Town and County officials shared in the ceremony since it is a joint venture between both bodies.

Chipper Norris, Leonardtown’s Mayor, officiated the event. Norris paid special homage to Bob Swann for his part in the project. Norris noted that without Swann’s help, the property would likely be a truck depot today. At the time Swann was the Maryland Comptroller, he arranged to have the unused land deeded to the town for the original price paid by the state—$14,000.

County Commissioner President Thomas McKay also spoke at the event. He remarked that the project was not only about providing a park, but about promoting tourism to the area. McKay said that he was “proud of the project.” County Commissioner Mattingly added that these days, “Leonardtown is full of life.”

Some of the most profound words were offered by Kevin Atticks of the Association of Maryland Wineries. He said that the Port of Leonardtown winery offers a unique example of synergy between the town, the county, and the grape growers. According to him, the first winery in Maryland was licensed in Baltimore in 1945. As of 2000, Maryland had eleven wineries.

Atticks further noted that in 2001, the state appointed the Maryland Wine and Grape Advisory Committee to study the growth of the wine industry in other nearby states, such as Virginia, to determine what Maryland could do to experience the same success. The Committee’s report recommends that one important step is to facilitate and encourage the formation of cooperatives—such as the one recently formed here to supply and operate the Port of Leonardtown winery.

Atticks’ most impressive statistics were that the smallest winery in Maryland generates 15-20,000 visitors every year. The largest winery generates more than 500,000 visitors annually.

Atticks is confident that the efforts underway will show that there is a market for Maryland fruit.

James Horstkamp of Compton is the President of the Cooperative. He said that he is confident that the co-op and the winery will help to foster a new industry in St. Mary’s County. He estimated that there are currently enough vines planted in the county to produce 30,000 bottles of wine.

After the brief remarks by the speakers, everyone was invited to get a glass of locally produced wine and join in a toast to the success of the project. After waiting a few minutes for the crowd to return from the bar with their glass of wine, Mayor Norris realized that he might have made a mistake in sending them off to the bar unsupervised. He issued a light-hearted reminder for them to return and the toast went off with an elegance commensurate with the nobility of the project.

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