What's Happening in Maryland

Posted on 09/15/2009 at 12:00 AM by Christa Hartsook

Occasionally, this blog will feature a value-added business in states throughout the nation that have received partial funding through a USDA Rural Development Value Added Producer Grant. This week we profile a vineyard in Maryland. For more information on the current solicitation for Value Added Producer Grants, please visit www.agmrc.org.


Black Ankle Vineyards is distinguished as the first estate winery in Maryland. Guided by their research, owners Sarah O’Herron and Ed Boyce are determined to create wines with the complexity, subtlety and nuance of the great European wines. They look to the Bordeaux region of France, where similar climate and soils support many organic vineyards. Using biodynamic methods, they are committed to sustainable farming methods as the basis for producing premium wines.  

The trip to Black Ankle Vineyard is intriguing in itself. Black Ankle Road is a stark contrast to the multi-lane highways that leads to Fredrick County, a tourism destination. The narrow country road provides a sense of what Maryland must have been like in the early days. Huge trees line the road on both sides and wild flowers bloom profusely. Ducks and a heron can be spotted in marshy areas. At the top of a hill, a sign for the vineyard appears.

The scenic farm was bought by the owners specifically to build the estate vineyard. The grapes stretch across the gently rolling hills. A narrow lane curves toward the tasting room, which opened in the fall of 2008.

Herron and Boyce left careers in business management consulting to pursue their dream of owning and operating an estate winery. After much research, they purchased the 146 acre farm in 2002 and began to plant grapes in the spring of 2003. They began with red grapes: Syrah and the five Bordeaux reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec). Then, in the spring of 2004, additional acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah as well as a small parcel of Pinot Noir was added, and a planting of white grapes: Gruner Veltliner, a widely grown grape in Austria; Albarino, a white grape grown in Spain and Portugal; Viognier, a grape from Southeastern France which has been grown in neighboring Virginia with excellent results, and Chardonnay. Since red wines tend to take longer to mature than whites, they will be able to release the first red and white wines simultaneously. Their first bottling was in April, 2008.

The vines are hand harvested beginning in September. The white grapes are harvested first and then the reds. There are 42,000 vines and each one is touched by human hands 6-7 times during the season. By culling some of the grapes midway through summer, they keep yields low to concentrate flavors and increase quality. A crew of five people who live nearby harvest the grapes, along with friends and family. The wines are premium priced at $26 - $40 a bottle. This high end will go up when they begin to bottle the estate reserve wines.

A USDA Value Added grant was awarded in 2007. Having a good business plan in hand has been essential to their success. The grant to secure a wine-making consultant, which ensured that they made a professional product and also helped them learn how to grow the grapes. It also allowed them to incorporate their ideas of place and sustainability into the construction of the tasting room.

Categories: State Happenings