Written By Kimberly Liddick-Byrnes

Agriculture is Carroll’s number one industry. In fact, 55 percent of the county’s land is used for growing food. But the crops are not all hay, corn, and cows. Some Carroll County farmers are branching out and trying something new: Grapes. The area is now home to two expanding vineyards, and there may be more on the way.

Greg Lambrecht of Serpent Ridge Vineyard in Westminster and Diane Hale of Galloping Goose Vineyard in Hampstead were drawn to grape growing and wine making for different reasons, but both have made the choice to be pioneers, adding a new chapter in Carroll County’s rich agricultural history.

Fortunately for them, wine is gaining popularity across the country. A survey by the Wine Market Council found that between 2000 and 2005, the wine drinking population in the US increased by 30 percent among adults with a household income greater than $35,000. And Carroll County has recognized the trend, opening several new wine-savvy stores and restaurants in the past few years, including A Taste of Tuscany and Wine Me Up in Westminster and Vino100 in Mt. Airy, plus playing host to the Maryland Wine Festival, scheduled for September 19 and 20 at the Farm Museum.

Serpent Ridge Vineyard and Winery

Greg Lambrecht will soon be retiring from the Coast Guard after 22 years of service. It was while he was working for the Coast Guard in the Russian River Valley of California, that he became interested in and eventually enthralled by wine and the art of wine making. In the mid-’90s Greg and his wife, Karen, began some small scale wine making which in turn fueled their passion for both wine making and grape growing.
Stationed in Curtis Bay, Greg said he and Karen came to Carroll County to visit a friend. They fell in love with the area, despite the abundance of snakes on the property (hence the vineyard’s name) and decided to move here with the hope of one day growing their vineyard. Eleven years later, they have five acres of several types of grapes growing, and they just bottled their first wines in the spring.

“People don’t believe that we can grow grapes in Maryland or make really good wine, said Lambrecht. “But in reality, we have a climate similar to Bordeaux, Northern Italy, and Eastern Europe. There is no reason that good grapes can’t thrive in Carroll County.”

Using the first grapes that the Lambrechts planted six years ago from cuttings obtained from Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, New York, Serpent Ridge is currently producing five wines – two Cabernet blends, a Grenache Rose, an Albarino, and a Seyval Blanc.

“We are a boutique vineyard and winery. We want to stay focused on what we do well,” said Lambrecht. “We will produce more wines in the future, maybe a dessert wine this year, but we don’t want to make so many wines that we feel like we’re sacrificing quality.”

When they started, Greg and Karen had to negotiate a steep learning curve. They both came from careers that did not include fruit growing, chemistry or product distribution. They spent years traveling to vineyards and wineries in the US and abroad, learning as much as they possibly could. In an effort to continue learning, Greg is taking an online winemakers’ certification course from the University of California at Davis.

“Like with any small business venture, we underestimated the amount of time, effort and money that would be needed to achieve our goal,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges has been trying to maintain our full time jobs and get this venture going at the same time.”

Serpent Ridge Vineyard currently has two acres under vine and the Lambrechts plan to have a total of seven eventually.

“I am in the vineyard every night and weekend,” said Lambrecht. We harvest by hand and we rely on friends, family and volunteers to do that. We take the same hands-on approach to the wine making, with each vintage made in small lots.”

In addition to growing his own grapes and making his own wine, Lambrecht is also working to expand the industry in Carroll County.

“I’m working with the Department of Tourism to come up with a Carroll County wine trail to draw tourists here,” he said. “The concept being that the stronger we make the industry, the better off we all are. We [wine makers] are a close knit community, constantly sharing knowledge and ideas. I’m excited to have other wineries in the county, it creates more interest.”

Galloping Goose Vineyard and Winery

Diane Hale enthusiastically admits that she has been playing in the dirt her whole life. She and her late husband lived on and worked their Hampstead farm for 40 years. After decades of growing different crops and raising different livestock, the couple decided to try growing grapes. She said they looked at grapes and a few other crops for about seven years before getting up the nerve to invest the money in a vineyard, which they named after a favorite horse named Goose. Unfortunately, Diane’s husband died several years ago, leaving Diane and her two grown sons, Jason and John, to continue the venture.

With a degree in biology and a lifetime of farming experience, Diane speaks of her vineyard and grapes, as well as her horses, very fondly, as if they are a part of the family. Not only does her farm provide her with a livelihood, but also with inspiration and a sense of peace.

“If you farm, it’s kind of ingrained, you learn to accept the seasons and flow with them. Everything you do is geared towards the harvest. You are at the mercy of the crops and weather” said Hale. “I move to a different beat, I suppose. It’s definitely not a 9-5 job, sometimes its 4 a.m. to midnight. For me it’s very quiet and peaceful; the vineyard is a comforting place.”

Hale started planting her grapes in 2001 from cuttings obtained from the Grafted Grapevine Nursery in Clifton Springs, New York. Today she has close to 35,000 vines growing. She said she intends to continue planting 5,000 vines a year until she has about 50 acres under vine; in another two or three years. This year, she plans to sell her wines at the Maryland Wine Festival.

Although her sons help her during crunch time, and she hires help during the season, Hale takes on the daily labor herself , spraying to avoid plant disease and bug infestation, pruning, and monitoring the health and growth of her vines. She said it is vital to watch the vines closely, because missing one little thing can ruin an entire crop.

Hale enumerated a handful of lessons she has learned, the biggest of which she said is patience: “I’m impatient, so it’s hard for me. You can’t push it along. The wine will be ready when it’s ready.”

“Winemaking is a lesson in vigilance,” she said. “You have to test it, and if you think it’s right, you have to check it again and then again, and again. You also have to learn to make changes. It can be hard and scary to do something differently, but sometimes it’s necessary.”

Currently, Galloping Goose Vineyard offers a Cabernet Sauvignon and just recently a blueberry wine. The winery is still under construction, although Hale is planning a grand opening in March, when she hopes to release a Chamberson Semi-Sweet red wine.