Sunday, July 06, 2008

Maryland Wine Extension Helps Maryland Winemakers

Joe Fiola, Maryland Cooperative Extension specialist in viticulture and small fruits, has helped move the wine industry into 15 Maryland counties.

The following is a piece about the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. As in many states, like New York, Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, and other states, these researchers and scientists help the local grape growers identify trends, fruit, disseases, and other important information. They are the unsung heroes of the winery business.

Growing Maryland’s Fruitful Wine Industry

Joe Fiola, Maryland Cooperative Extension specialist in viticulture and small fruits, has helped move the wine industry into 15 Maryland counties.

Joe Fiola, viticulture and small fruit specialist at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center, has a strange introduction to his beginners’ grape growing workshops.

“My object here is to scare most of you away from doing this,” he tells would-be vintners who flock to his presentations. If you don’t want to be a farmer, don’t get into grape production, explains the viticulturist with almost 20 years of experience. Growing grapes is intensive small fruit farming; amateur growers need to understand there’s nothing romantic about mid-winter pruning or mid-summer vine training.

With Fiola’s help, the 28 licensed wineries in Maryland—up from 11 in 2002—like well-trained vines, might just make it. Fiola’s viticulture and enology program concentrates on variety and clonal testing he conducts on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ four vineyards. Fiola’s goal is to develop variety recommendations—like those from southern Italy, France and Spain, and even Eastern Europe—best suited to a vineyard locale. Wine production in the state increases an average of 15 to 20 percent each year, and Maryland wines—numbering more than 225 different varieties—consistently win gold medals at national and international wine competitions.

Fiola’s own wines have moved him into the top 20 all-time award winners in the American Wine Society’s national wine amateur competition. Fiola’s Linae, a vine existing nowhere else in the world, garnered the vintner a Best in Show in 2003. Boordy Vineyards, located in Baltimore County, has since requested an acre of the vine from Fiola who hopes to patent it.

On the horizon for the burgeoning Maryland wine industry?

“Farmers need to take advantage of the interest in wine and work with apples, which are much less expensive to grow than grapes,” Fiola says. The northern tier counties are well suited to grow this hardy fruit. This is not your grocery store cider turned hard. Apple wines can have a bouquet similar to a dry chardonnay, Fiola says. He also creates Madeira-style wines and products similar to ice wine and ice-port wine from apples.

“Since I do so many fermentations each year, sometimes one gets away without getting the proper attention and oxidizes or turns to vinegar,” he says.

But the wine industry, stoked by Fiola’s research efforts at Maryland, promises to remain sweet. —RR

Courtesy of University of Maryland