Not many years after the first European settlers landed in what would ultimately become Maryland, Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, told his son and Maryland Gov. Charles Calvert that it was wine time. He said that 200 to 300 acres of land should be set aside for vineyards, and in 1662, he backed up his proposal with the shipment of vine grafts.
They didn’t take. Ten years later, Lord Baltimore tried again, this time sending what were probably French grapevines. A second failure ensued.
But some 350 years later, two wineries in St. Mary’s County provide a wide range of wines to enthusiasts, at the same time offering pleasurable agritourism experiences to the most discriminating oenophiles.
For those seeking an up-close-and-personal experience in winemaking, the Port of Leonardtown Winery provides the opportunity not only to observe the process while enjoying samples in the tasting room, but to mingle with hands-on winemaker Lauren Zimmerman. As the only cooperative winery in the state, Port of Leonardtown draws on 12 Southern Maryland vineyards that grow more than 25 grape varieties. Fifty tons of fruit result in an annual production of 4,500 cases of wine.
Southern Maryland’s climate is milder than in other parts of the state, Zimmerman noted. As such, she has particularly good results with two grapes: chambourcin and albarino, both of which are resistant to mildew. Some 20 different wine labels are currently available in the tasting room, the windows of which provide a view into the internal workings of the winemaking operation.
Insider tip: Located in a repurposed historic commercial building on the grounds of the Port of Leonardtown Public Park, the winery has a year-round patio and live music on the weekends.
“I guarantee that everyone will find a wine to their taste here,” Zimmerman said, “from a fruity wine for beginners to a big, bold, dry red wine that will satisfy the wine connoisseur.”
For those seeking tranquility among the vines, Jubilee Farm in Leonardtown features 139 bucolic acres where guests are invited to “get lost in the vineyards, wander shore’s end, and visit the chickens and the kale.” It is also where Slack Wines are made.
Under the watchful eye of winemaker Tucker Grube-O’Brien, 6 acres are planted in four varieties of grapes (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, sangiovese, and barbera). Slack offers six different labels, all wines that pair well with seafood, for a total annual production of 1,000 cases.
For those who cannot pull themselves away, a stay at the bed-and-breakfast inn at the sister property of Woodlawn Farm is an appealing option. Located in Ridge, the historic mansion, built on Maryland’s first estate, provides guests an opportunity to further enjoy Slack Wines in gracious accommodations with unparalleled waterfront views. Explore on foot or by tractor, bicycle, or kayak. “Picnics,” Grube-Tucker said, “are encouraged.”
Both young winemakers are planning special releases to celebrate “The Wines of March”: Red Lot 15, a “big, bold, full-bodied red” from Port of Leonardtown, and a sparkling white from Slack.
St. Mary’s Co. Tourism: visitstmarysmd.com/winemonth