Written By Patricia Bianca

Clear skies, gentle sunshine and green rolling hills : qualities that have long attracted people to the Carroll County area, and the same conditions that make the region perfect for producing fine wine.

According to Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association and the author of several books on the subject, “The wines that are grown in the Carroll County area have probably won the most awards of any in the state. It’s a very good growing region. Some of the best-known varieties [of grapes] grow very well there – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. That’s why we have new wineries planned there, because people understand that it is a great place to grow.”

A tour of the vineyards and wineries of our region demonstrates why wine lovers keep coming back for more…

Cygnus Wine Cellars – Manchester

The unassuming Cygnus winery is tucked just off the hustle of Manchester’s main thoroughfare. Owner and winemaker Ray Brasfield started his business in 1996 and has been perfecting his wines ever since.

The plant, which was once a meat-processing facility, offers a charm that is at once rustic and evocative of post-industrial minimalism. Renovations continue to improve the structure for both Ray and his customers.

The wines definitely take center stage at Cygnus. Ray was an early devotee to the art of winemaking and takes great pride in producing the finest our region has to offer. His current wine list consists of three dry reds, a dry white, two semi-dry whites and some sparkling wines.

Cygnus often offers special wines, like their Late Harvest dessert-style wine, that is not made unless the proper grapes are available. Another special offering is a premium red known as “Julian,” a fine blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that is aged for no less than four years before release.

Ray buys his grapes from all over Maryland, including Carroll County vineyards such as Meadow Creek, Bellendine and occasionally Copernica. He produces about 2,500 gallons, or 1,000 cases, a year.

You can find Cygnus Wines in many fine restaurants in the Baltimore and Carroll regions.

Elk Run Winery – Mt. Airy

The elegant winery of Elk Run is located just south of the Carroll County line on Route 26. Established in 1983 by its proprietors, Carol and Fred Wilson, the winery continues to rack up honors for its product. According to Carol, theirs was the first winery east of the Rockies to win an international silver medal. The award was for their Chardonnay in 1987. Last year, their GewŸrztraminer won one gold, four silver and two bronze medals.

“Unfortunately,” said Carol, “with the quantities that we make, by the time the competition is held, the wine is usually gone. But it does give us a good measure of what we’re successful at doing or what we need to improve upon.”

Carol’s attitude and the honors resulting from it have secured a place for Elk Run’s wines in such prestigious establishments as the Reno Casino in Las Vegas and the famed Charlie Trotter Steakhouse in Chicago.

Elk Run’s 24-acre vineyard produces a dazzling array of wine grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Riesling and GewŸrztraminer – resulting in an equally dazzling array of wines.

Carol invites the public to attend Elk Run’s upcoming Family Fest on the weekend of October 15-16, or to stop by anytime during October’s harvest to pick grapes and meet fellow connoisseurs.

Loew Vineyards – Mt. Airy

Loew Vineyards sits a couple of miles down Route 26. Bill and Lois Loew purchased the 37-acre farm back in 1982 and began selling their premium wines in 1986.

Winemaking is in Bill’s blood. His family had operated wineries in Europe before World War II, and he just followed suit. Their winery now produces 2,000-3,000 gallons of wine a year, including three dry white wines, two dry reds, four semi-sweets and four sweets. In their five-acre vineyard, they grow their own Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Seyval Blanc, in addition to lesser known varieties of wine grapes like Reliance, Chancellor, Foch and Millot. “There are a lot more of the smaller wineries,” said Lois, “that experiment with some of the lesser known grapes just because you can play with them a little bit more.”

Although the Loews shy away from most wine competitions, they have won Governor’s Cup honors for their semi-sweet Twilight and Celebration wines.

In addition to visiting the lovely Loew Vineyards and enjoying Lois’ pleasant company, you can also purchase their wines at several retail outlets throughout Carroll County and the surrounding areas.

Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars – Mt. Airy

The largest winery/vineyard in our area is definitely Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars. Located just off Route 75 along Glissons Mill Road, the sprawling property consists of 43 acres of vineyard. “It’s the largest single planting of grapes in the state,” said proprietor and winemaker Anthony Aellen, ‘which doesn’t mean anything other than we’re crazier than anybody else.”

Anthony’s operation has two names to denote the two types of wines they produce. Berrywine Plantations is the label for his fruit-based wines and Linganore Winecellars is the label for their more traditional grape-based wines. The two labels encompass 32 varieties of wines.

A tour through the plant at Berrywine Plantation is impressive. Their tank room’s vessels contain anywhere from 500 to 5,600 gallons, and there are more than 300 casks for the aging of red wine. It’ quite a change from the days when the Aellens made wine in their basement back in the 1970s.

Berrywine/Linganore wines are known for their light, fruity taste. They had received more than 140 medals before Anthony stopped entering competitions. He is now interested in growth, and part of that growth is the beautiful new tasting room and reception area that will be opening soon.

The Grape Growers of Carroll County

The numerous grape growers in Carroll County contribute to some of the best wines that the state of Maryland has to offer. Because they keep such a low profile, it’s almost impossible to nail down the number of vineyards in the county. The Maryland Farm Bureau lists 11, but those in the wine industry guess there are much more.

One of the larger, better known vineyards in the area is Copernica Vineyards, which lies near the little town of Union Mills. Proprietors Jack and Emily Johnson have gained much respect in the industry, both for their extraordinary grapes and their educational endeavors over the past 25 years. Jack currently serves as editor for the Maryland Grape Owners Association newsletter and both are very active in the American Wine Society, teaching wine education seminars at the Maryland Wine Festival, among other enterprises.

The Johnson’s vineyard, which was planted in 1988, consists of six acres and produces nearly 18 tons of grapes a year, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Jack and Emily, like so many others, got into the business for the romance but soon discovered the hardships that come with operating a vineyard. Constant pruning and weeding and fighting off disease and insects has brought the couple, who originally saw the project as a retirement business, sharply down to earth.

All of their efforts, however, have yielded highly desirable grapes, which have gone on to produce such award winning wines as Woodhall Winery’s Copernica Reserve, which won the Governor’s Cup the year before last. Alas, notes Jack, “They give awards for wines, but not for the grapes themselves.”

Dr. Robert Scott is another grape grower in the area. His vineyard, Belledine (“beautiful hill” in Italian), is located in the lush farmland surrounding Taneytown in Northwest Carroll County. Another hobbyist who got the bug, Dr. Scott is an orthodontist by trade but has been producing grapes for 24 years, starting with the 40 vines his wife brought to them as a wedding present.

In his vineyard, which now consists of 1,800 vines, Dr. Scott produces Pinot Noir, Seyval, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvingnon and Cabernet Franc. Most of his buyers are home winemakers, but he’s also sold some of his grapes to wineries like Cygnus, Elk Run and Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County.

Dr. Scott, or Bob, as he is known to his friends, may be a small, operator but his passion for excellence has brought him the respect of many in the business. He even sits on the Maryland Wine Advisory Committee.

Growers like Dr. Scott and the Johnsons are most welcome to the many wineries crying out for more Maryland grown grapes. Winemaker rely on good growers and vice versa to produce our region’s extraordinary wines. Observes Richard Penna, Chairman of the Research and Education Committee for the Maryland Grape Growers Association, “In the hands of a good grower and a skilled winemaker, our grapes make wine that will stand up to the most severe competition.”

How to Judge Wines

Many oenophiles judge wine based on criteria established by the University
of California at Davis, now known as the Modified U.C. Davis 20 Point

Color: 2 pts.
Clarity: 2 pts.
Aroma: 6 pts.
Taste: 8 pts.
Overall Impression: 2 pts.
Total: 20 pts.

Where to Visit a Winery or Vineyard

Cygnus Wine Cellars
3130 Long Lane, Manchester, MD 21102
Hours: Saturday & Sunday noon to 5 p.m.;
Monday through Friday by appointment

Elk Run Vineyards
15113 Liberty Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Sunday 1to 5 p.m.; Monday by appointment (Fridays,
April to December 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Loew Vineyards
14001 Liberty Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771
Hours: Saturday 10a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.;
Monday through Friday by appointment

Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars
13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771
Hours: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday noon to 6 p.m.