The state of Maryland took a large step to celebrate their thriving wine culture in 2011. The first annual “Maryland Wine Week” was declared by Governor O’Malley. For the final weekend of wine week the Great Grapes! festival was being held at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville, just north of Baltimore.
I was originally planning a group trip to Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton for this Saturday. Their website announced, however that they would be at this festival for the weekend. I did not want to risk showing up at Terrapin unannounced to a closed sign and a chorus of crickets so a few of us unanimously decided to do the festival. Two days, 20 Maryland wineries, 200 wines. As good as that sounds I’m just glad to get out of the house for a few days.
We arrived in Cockeysville around noon on Saturday following the 2 hour drive from Philly. Fran and I met Debbie & Greg at our hotel and jumped the shuttle to the festival. Oregon Ridge Park was about a mile away and the parking lot was already filling up quickly.
The $35 advance ticket covered 2 days of unlimited tastings, a souvenir wine glass (complete w/ lanyard), all music performances & cooking demos if you wished to participate. A nice service was that any wine purchased during the day was left at will call for the buyer for pickup upon leaving the festival.
So anyway here we were. A park full of wineries for six hours w/ a driver on call. Sound fun? Let me jump ahead and share a few things that I learned from this trip:
- If you limit your visits to one or two wineries in a day, you are bound to have a more personal experience and will learn more about the wines, the winemakers and the unique qualities & history of the facility. Twenty wineries in close proximity is a bit overwhelming.
- A winery’s staff and owner/winemakers will have more to offer and make an impression for their establishment much better than an army of volunteers.
- After tasting 40 to 50 wines or so, it’s hard to tell one Cabernet from another, you know? Just my opinion.
I met some great people and our whole group seemed to have a good time. I stopped by quite a few booths that I want to definitely follow up with official winery visits.
Here are some of my choice highlights of the show:
St. Michael’s Winery Chocolate Zinfandel. This may sound either heavenly or absolutely disgusting to you but I found it to be very tasty. Chocolate goes w/ Zin quite nicely so the innovative folks over at St. Mike’s decided to mix the two. Best as a dessert wine or after dinner treat. A 375 ml bottle of Chocolate Zin goes for $26.50.
On site cooking classes. I sat in on a demo with Jim Benson of Eleven Courses Private Chefs. He whipped up some seasoned Gnoccis & Mushrooms that were outstanding. Everyone got to sample afterward a la Emeril Live. Check out their private party options at www.elevencourses.com.
I favor bold, dry red wines and one of the standouts for me was the Marisa from Basignani Winery in the nearby town of Sparks. It is the definition of a great everyday table wine. Bold & full bodied. From Basignani’s brochure: “Dry red vineyard blend of Foch, Chambourcin, Chancellor and Syrah. Very fruity and reminiscent of a Beaujolais.”
Another selection that I immensely enjoyed was the Montepulciano from Penn Oaks in Silver Spring. Another dry red selection w/ a unique flavor and a nice finish. Great w/ beef or pasta w/ meat sauce.
I passed a booth w/ two attractive girls dressed up as gangsters. My curiosity got the best of me so I stopped to see what was going on. The ladies from Al Capone were offering a sample of two free Cognac dipped cigarillos in exchange for a promo photo of me smoking one. Now I’m not a regular smoker and don’t advocate smoking in general but I enjoy the occasional cigar. I do feel that smokers are one of the most unfairly discriminated against groups in America. Much to the dismay of my wife who DESPISES smoking, I fired one up.
I’m not apologizing. I have a blog to write here.
Debbie and Greg headed home on Sunday morning but Fran and I went back for day two. Mostly just to wander around, pick up a few bottles and take everything in from a more sober perspective. There was a variety of live music, which was quite good and picnicing for the duration of the show. The food vendors were better than I expected w/ selections ranging from Maryland Crab Cake sandwiches to Gyros to funnel cakes. The price gouging wasn’t TOO bad on the food. Many craft vendors were onsite as well and there were some very talented artists showing their wine paintings.
To learn more about Maryland’s burgeoning wine culture check out Maryland Wine online at marylandwine.com
Many thanks for visiting.