Sunday, July 04, 2010

Interview with Sarah O'Herron, Black Ankle Vineyards, Maryland

It all began with a simple appreciation of wine. Sarah O’Herron, winemaker at Black Ankle Vineyards, grew up in a family in which wine was a part of celebration and special occasions. However, the wine business was not the immediate path that Sarah pursued. She and her husband, Ed Boyce, were management consultants before their aspirations turned to making “top quality wines.”

According to O’Herron, her now extremely successful winery “just grew out of love and curiosity of wine. It simply came together—out of drinking wine.” O’Herron educated herself on the subtle differences and flavors of wine; spent endless amounts of time reading and researching wine and the industry. The project began in 2000-2001. She took field trips with her husband across the country and even around the world, visiting California, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, New Zealand, France, and Italy in order to learn as much about the industry and various techniques as possible. She “also did three mini internships over three harvests, spending a week at Littorai in Napa Valley, two weeks at Chateau Falfas in Bordeaux, and the better part of 2 months at Paumanok in Long Island. These experiences provided broad exposure.
“I learned all the nuts and bolts of everything, and learned the more subjective skills such as tasting and smelling for progress and/or problems throughout fermentation.”

O’Herron truly learned the secrets of the wine making process (although she insists there are no secrets, only a “super fastidious” attention to detail), for when Black Ankle debuted, the vineyard certainly made a big splash. The 2006 Crumbling Rock won the Governor’s Cup, and there was a lot of buzz in the wine community about the quality wines that the new vineyard was producing. O’Herron states that part of the reason they received so much attention upon their opening was due to the fact that she and her husband did not come from within the wine industry.

“We were totally from the outside, the industry did not even know we existed,” said O’Herron.
However, the novelty factor is definitely not why the wines that O’Herron and Black Ankle create are so incredibly well received. The philosophy behind the wine must positively affect the final product. Sarah believes in being self-sustainable. All of the fruit used in the wines are grown on the vineyard, which is fertilized with compost made on the grounds.

“We are fairly unique—not quite organic but very sustainable. We use no herbicides and only use chemicals when rarely needed in emergency situations,” said O’Herron. The vines are tended by hand, all 42,000 of them, in order to ensure that everything is perfect and they will produce the best fruit possible. According to O’Herron, such personalized dedication is directly reflected in the final product.

Another notable influence is that of a woman’s touch. Sarah is a very successful woman in an industry that consists mainly of men. Her current and continued success must be commended in an industry that is difficult to tap into.

I know tht Black Ankle is one of the east coast wineries Oz Clarke is much impressed with. One of their best wines is their Syrah.

Leaf-Stone Syrah 2007
2009 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Best Syrah
Retail Price: $45
Blend: 91% Syrah, 4% Pinot Noir, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot
Production: 308 cases
Tasting notes: The 2007 Leaf-Stone Syrah is a saturated crimson, framed by outer hues of deep violet. Rich currant, blackberry pie, vanilla, and dark chocolate lead the smoky aromatics, followed by lush and concentrated flavors of dark fruit, blueberry, and espresso balanced with fine-grained tannins. The finish is long and enchanting. This wine is ready to drink now, but will happily age for years to come.