Like many Italian immigrants who have comfortably found a home in this country, the Barbera grape is thriving throughout the United States, especially in Maryland. This red grape, originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, is, acre by acre, beginning to make its impression on American vineyards and farms. Though a newcomer to the Maryland wine industry, the Barbera grape seems to be right at home.
According to Jennie Schmidt, president of the Maryland Grape Growers Association, in only its second year of production the Barbera grape is already producing award-wining wines. “Barbera is easy to manage compared to other Italian reds such as Sangiovese,” says Schmidt. Adding that the grape has not been susceptible to disease and that it is “not over vigorous,” Schmidt sees it self-regulating during the growing season. Tending her two acres of Barbera has been a relatively stress-free process for Schmidt.
Why grow Barbera in Maryland? Chris Kent of Woodhall Wine Cellars says it grows well and tastes great. “It grows and ripens very well and poses few problems in wine making,” Kent says Woodhall has had great success with Barbera, including a 2008 gold medal in the Governor’s Cup.
Taking little manpower and supervision, the Barbera grape grows to its full potential in Maryland soil with ease, reaching ideal levels of sugar and pH and developing the rich red color for which it’s famous. Barbera grapes are very acidic, creating a wide range of wines, from lighter bodied and fruity to rich and thick. After fermentation, when most wine’s level of acidity drop, Barbera’s remains high, giving it a unique, rich taste. This wine is often used for blending due to its color and high acidity.
As for Barbera’s future in Maryland, Woodhall’s Kent believes it’s here to stay, saying, “It’s a real wine drinker’s wine.”