Maryland Wine Overview

Maryland has one of the most vibrant wine industries in the country. More than 50 wineries operate here, and they’re scattered all across the state. While Maryland wines may be under the radar to much of the country, they’re well known and well respected along the East Coast.

So why is Maryland so proficient in producing noteworthy wines? It all starts with geography. Maryland is tucked along the U.S. eastern seaboard and is bordered by Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware. The topography in Maryland is amazingly diverse, particularly for a state of relatively small size. The far eastern part of the state is a coastal climate, with the Chesapeake Bay creating a series of small islands, irregular coastline and a variety of microclimates. Western Maryland, adjacent to northeast West Virginia, is heavily forested and mountainous. The central part of the state, west of Baltimore and north of Washington D.C., is part of what is known as the Piedmont Plateau. The weather is often quite different in western Maryland versus eastern Maryland, with notable wind, temperature and humidity variances.

Because of the differences in climate conditions, a wide variety of grapes thrive in Maryland. While in some states there are one or two defined growing areas, Maryland has four — and they stretch across the entire state. Each growing region produces certain grape varieties, and the result is a broad spectrum of wine styles emanating from Maryland wineries.

More specifically, the mountainous and heavily forested western Maryland area produces grapes that are cold-hardy for a shorter growing season. Vineyards tend to grow varieties like Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Seyval and Cabernet Sauvignon. Moving farther east in the state toward Baltimore, the climate becomes a bit warmer and the growing season is longer. These conditions are perfect for grapes like Merlot, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc.

And then there are Maryland’s coastal areas. The eastern shore offers sandy soil and warm days, with nights moderated by the bay and the ocean beyond. Almost any style of grape imaginable can do reasonably well here. Farther south, temperatures tend to stay warm, which bodes well for Italian style grapes like Sangiovese. Maryland wineries take full advantage of these distinct growing areas to create a full spectrum of reds and whites.

And, consumers have jumped on board. In 2011, sales of Maryland wine rose 11% over 2010, continuing a rising trend in recent years.

Also of note, there are three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Maryland: the Catoctin AVA, Cumberland Valley AVA and the Linganore AVA. These designations underscore Maryland’s grape growing capabilities and their wine industry as a whole.

Maryland has always been supportive of agri-tourism efforts, demonstrated in part by the establishment of five wine trails in the state, which we’ll discuss below. Agriculture is an important economic engine in Maryland and grape growing and wineries are a big part of the equation.

You can learn more about specific wineries in the state at the official Maryland wine site.

Maryland Wine Trails

Maryland, along with neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia, was one of the first states to recognize the economic benefit of designating official wine trails. The state now has five, and if you traverse all five, you’ve given yourself a pretty thorough and comprehensive tour through Maryland.

We’ll discuss the trails moving clockwise through the state. The Frederick Wine Trail is in central Marland, due west of Baltimore and northwest of Washington, D.C. Moving eastward, you have the Carroll Wine Trail, which is north of Baltimore and slightly to the northwest. The Piedmont Wine Trail is also north of Baltimore and slightly to the northeast.

The other two Maryland wine trails are farther south and east. The Patuxent Wine Trail is in southern Maryland, south of Washington, D.C., while the Chesapeake Wine Trail is on the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay, bordering Delaware to the east and the ocean to the southeast.

The first Maryland wine trail we’ll discuss is the Frederick Wine Trail in central Maryland. The enjoyable town of Frederick is at the center of the trail, which consists of eight wineries, among which are some of Maryland’s biggest wine producers.

Take the opportunity to visit downtown Frederick, where you’ll not only find Frederick Cellars Winery, but a variety of specialty shops in a very walkable area. Firestone’s Market on Market Street is a great place to shop for specialty food gifts. For lunch, stroll almost next door to Firestone’s to Brewer’s Alley Restaurant and Brewery to try their wood-fired pizza.

Frederick is also an ideal location to stay the night to break the trail in half. Each of the eight wineries is an easy drive from downtown.

Moving east and slightly to the north, you’ll encounter the wineries of the Carroll Wine Trail in north central Maryland not far from the Pennsylvania border. The center of the Carroll Wine Trail is the town of Westminster. Two of the four wineries on the trail are slightly to the northeast of Westminster, near the town of Manchester. All four wineries are located within an hour’s drive from Baltimore.

If you happen to be visiting the Baltimore area, this is a great wine trail to explore. You can get to all four of the trail’s wineries in one day and get a chance to experience rural Maryland. You’re not far from Gettysburg from anywhere on the trail, either. And if you’re near Manchester visiting the two wineries, stop at Captain Bob’s Fresh Seafood on Hanover Pike for lunch — you’ll be treated to some of the freshest seafood you’ve ever eaten at very reasonable prices.

The Piedmont Wine Trail is due north and also slightly east of Baltimore in what is known as Maryland horse country. This is an agricultural area, again not far from the Pennsylvania border, amidst rolling hills and Maryland farms throughout the countryside. There are nine wineries on the Piedmont Wine Trail, so it’ll take a minimum of two days to cover it. All the wineries are a fairly easy drive north of Baltimore on Interstate 83 on the trail’s western edge or via Route 1 toward the eastern edge.

About an hour southeast of Washington along the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay you’ll find the wineries of the Patuxent Wine Trail. This is a beautiful part of the state, and also one of the warmest — although the warm temperatures are moderated by the bay. This is also a prolific grape-growing area, as grapes that thrive in a Mediterranean climate do well here. There are seven wineries to visit on the Patuxent Wine Trail. This is an ideal weekend getaway because there are several picturesque waterfront towns and ample history to explore in this region. The pace is much slower here and yet you’re only an hour or so away from our nation’s capital.

Across the bay and toward the Delaware border and the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, you’ll find the wineries of the Chesapeake Wine Trail. This is Maryland’s largest wine trail, both in terms of geographical distance and number of wineries. The trail stretches more than the length of Delaware and the eleven trail wineries are located from near the Pennsylvania border down to Princess Anne, Maryland, which is not far from the Virginia border.

You can break this trail into two or even three segments. Visit the northern portion of the trail and skip over into Delaware to spend some time in the charming college town of Newark, which offers ample shopping and dining opportunities. Combine the wineries in the central section of the trail with a weekend visit to Annapolis, where you’ll surround yourself with history. Then, visit the southern section of the trail and experience the coastal areas of Maryland.

While you’re visiting Maryland’s five wine trails, be sure to experience some of Maryland’s other agricultural attractions. A good place to start is at Maryland’s Best, a useful site that lets you search either by area or by agritourism interest.

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