- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

CLEAR SPRING, Md. | Row after row, vine after vine, a former lobbyist with a taste for fine wine is creating Maryland’s largest vineyard in the Appalachian foothills of Western Maryland.

Richard Seibert moved his family last year from Annapolis to Clear Spring to plant 60 acres of grapes on the 175-acre farm that has been in his family for generations. In the fall of 2009, Knob Hall Winery will start bottling wine from the merlot, cabernet franc, vidal blanc and chambourcin grapes he started planting last year.

When fully planted by 2010, Mr. Seibert’s vineyard will be the largest in Maryland, eclipsing Linganore Winecellars’ 50 acres in Frederick County, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.

However, Knob Hall won’t be the largest winery. Linganore Winecellars and Boordy Vineyards, of Hydes, produce more than 100,000 gallons a year, much more than the roughly 30,000 that Mr. Seibert projects for Knob Hall. Mr. Seibert said he expects to buy grapes to supplement what he grows, just as the state’s other large wineries do.

Mr. Seibert, 56, worked for the National Association of Manufacturers and founded the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, a think tank dedicated to energy, environmental, health and safety issues.

While he enjoys wine, he concedes he’s no vintner.

“We are not experts in making wine, which is why we have hired an expert winemaker,” Mr. Seibert told the Frederick News-Post.

The vintner, John Levenberg, studied at the University of California at Davis and has worked in France and California, Mr. Seibert said.

“He did a merlot,” Mr. Seibert said. “I’m not a big merlot fan, and it just knocked my socks off. If we can do this, we’ll have no trouble.”

Mr. Seibert’s vineyard signals a renewed push for winemaking in Washington County. Joe Fiola, a small-fruit specialist with University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension, told the (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail that the county’s well-drained soil includes some of the best grape-growing areas in the state. Yet the county has had no commercial wineries since the Ziem Winery, which was in Downsville, closed about nine years ago, Mr. Fiola said.

Vineyards offer big profit potential for those who can afford high upfront costs that Mr. Seibert estimated at $12,000 to $13,000 an acre.

Mr. Fiola said an average acre of grapes yields $1,000 to $2,000. Turning grapes into wine can multiply the yield by 10 or 12, he said.

Mr. Seibert said that when he inherited the land about three years ago and asked farming experts to recommend a profitable crop, the answer was soybeans - at about $100 an acre. Wine made more sense, he said.

Maryland has 24 commercial wineries and at least two more expected to open this fall, according to the Maryland Wineries Association Web site.

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