The Catoctin Mountains of central Maryland are known for history and scenery, but scattered across the hillsides you’ll also find vineyards which produce both grape and fruit wines.
The county has three traditional wineries and one “wine crafters” shop. Each has a special atmosphere and all offer tastings and events that complement the “wine lifestyle.”
Big Cork Vineyards
A heavy-hitter on the national, as well as regional, wine scene, Big Cork produces big wines with intense flavors. The vineyard grows the familiar chardonnay, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon grapes, as well as the less common barbera and petit verdot. It won more medals in the 2016 Maryland Governor’s Cup than the entire U.S. swim team did in the Olympics, including the Best in Show for its Black Cap NV.
While most tasting rooms go for the “rustic country” theme, Big Cork’s is a display of chic, contemporary sophistication. Guests are welcome to bring a picnic or visit the Grab-and-Go Food Market. There are guided tours of the vineyards at noon and 1:00pm. The vineyard is family- and dog-friendly.
Blue Mountain Wine Crafters
Not a vineyard, but an in-town winery, Blue Mountain uses grapes from regional growers to produce pinot grigio, malbec, and shiraz, as well as a lot of fruit wines. Owners Cindy McGee and Tim Rowe also offer classes in winemaking. During the three to four sessions over several weeks, students learn the basics of winemaking and produce a few bottles of their own personal label.
The owners also offer classes in beer-brewing and their shop sells supplies for both pursuits. The website bluemountainwinecrafters.com has information about the workshops. The store is found at 117 E. Baltimore St. in Funkstown, a popular area for antiquing.
Knob Hall Winery
“Exactly how you want a wine to taste.”
That was the comment of a judge at the 2014 Maryland Governor’s Cup Winemaster’s Choice Competition about the vineyard’s Prestige wine — a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and chambourcin.
An estate winery, it specializes in hearty blends or varietal wines which demonstrate the best qualities of that grape. Along with the familiar grapes, look for chambourcin, traminette, and vidot blanc.
The Siebert family moved to this land during the French and Indian War, although it took nearly 200 years before they decided to devote 30 of their 300 acres to grapes. Wine tastings and events are held at the 200-year-old barn and overseen by the resident peacocks, guinea hens, and dogs. During the year, visitors enjoy guided tours of the vineyards and can participate in wine festivals, which include harvesting and stomping grapes and learning how to trim vines. Among the other events are “Wine Down Fridays” and “Mimosas, Music, and Farmers’ Markets” on Sundays with live music. On Oct. 22, the vineyard hosts its Celtic Festival.
Red Heifer Winery
Named after the sole resident of the property when Kevin Ford’s great-grandfather purchased it in 1940, Red Heifer has a range of sweet and dry wines for more “casual” drinking, picnics, and light meals. The owners have mastered the often-tricky pairing of wine with spicy foods and have several fruit wines, too.
Oct. 22 marks the fourth anniversary of Red Heifer. Join the “Music on the Hill” celebration, featuring live music, barbecue, and kettle corn, for a $10 cover. Other weekends in October see a free music series every Saturday.
This specialty tour company offers day-long van tours of the wineries, so you can taste without fear of driving later. The schedule and pricing is on the website. The company can also arrange private group tours.
Washington Co. Tourism: visithagerstown.com